This Thursday was the day Shane Lowry should have stood on the first tee at Royal St George’s and taken the plaudits as defending champion at the 149th Open.
Instead of being lauded on the English coast for his Claret Jug heroics at Royal Portrush a year ago, he is in Ohio where the Irishman gets his first round of the Memorial Tournament underway at Muirfield Village, keen not to dwell on the what-might-have-beens.
Lowry, 33, goes into this weekend’s rescheduled Memorial still looking to hit top form after four starts on the resumption of competitive golf following the Covid-19 pandemic that forced the cancellation of the 2020 Open Championship. The upside is he gets to enjoy the title reigning champion and keep the Claret Jug for an extra 12 months, but speaking during his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday the Offalyman declined to take the sentimental route.
“I wouldn't say it's bittersweet, but it is strange,” he said. “Like, I should be in St George's today probably sitting in the pressroom there as defending champion and wondering how I'm going to go out and tackle that golf course as opposed to being here in Ohio. It's just very strange times for us at the minute, isn't it?
“I'm just happy that we're playing golf. I think the PGA Tour, Jay (Monahan, the tour’s commissioner) and everyone involved have done a great job, and we're very lucky to be back at work and back playing golf, and I'm kind of grateful for that more than anything else.
“I don't really dwell on things too much that happen, so it is what it is right now, and we kind of have to deal with the cards we're given.
“I wouldn't say it's hard to get my head around the fact that we're not playing (The Open) this week because, like I said, I don't kind of dwell on things. Things happen. We're certainly not in control of what's happening in the world at the minute.
“Obviously I'd love to be in St George's this week defending. I'd love if we were playing in front of 40,000 or 50,000 people this week. I'd love, like everybody in the world, if things were back to normal, but they're not, and we kind of have to get on with that. So I certainly don't dwell on that.
Asked what he was going to miss the most this week, being on the latest PGA Tour stop rather than playing in the oldest major, Lowry said: “I suppose just, like every year you get to play in the Open, it's special.
“Like I've never played in the Open at St George's, so that would have been different. But just going back and giving back the Claret Jug and just doing the little things like that. I think just competing in one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Look, we're here, this is the biggest tournament in the world this week, the Memorial here, and this is a huge tournament in its own right, so I'm very happy to be competing here. But obviously I'd love to be in St George's.
“I miss the crowds, you miss the kind of buzz, the adrenaline you get from that, and I miss all that. I miss being announced on the first tee as defending champion, but I'm sure I'll get that next year. So everything that I miss or that I won't get to do this week, I'm sure I'll get to do next year.”
For now, Lowry is looking to move further along the gradual upward curve he has been on since returning to competition. Consecutive missed cuts at the Charles Schwab Challenge and RBC Heritage were followed by a tie for 60th at the Travelers Championship before last Sunday’s T39 at the Workday Charity Open, also at Muirfield Village, when he finished four under par.
A T21 at the pre-lockdown Honda Classic has been his best 2020 finish to date but while Lowry is happy with his approach to the game he is aware of the need to reduce his on-course errors if he is to be rewarded for otherwise strong play.
“I felt good about the way things were, and then obviously this happened and we were in lockdown for a number of weeks, and we came back out and I worked very hard in my time off, probably as hard as I've ever worked in my life on the range and in the gym and just kind of doing stuff. Came back out kind of hoping to get off to a great start, and I didn't really do what I would have liked. I missed a couple of cuts and had a couple of average weeks the last two weeks, but I'm still fairly optimistic where my game is at.
“I made 20 birdies and an eagle last week, and I'm pretty happy with that, and I kind of just need to cut out the mistakes this week, and you never know what could happen.”