How Shane Lowry would have loved to have been announced on the first tee this morning to a packed Dubai Duty Free Irish Open gallery as the Open Champion.
As with so many things in the world we currently live in, it is not to be.
There will be no rapturous homecoming for the holder of the “Clara” Jug this week, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic having seen to it that no spectators will be at Galgorm Castle when Lowry and the field he leads get their opening rounds underway today.
Yet Ireland’s golfing folk hero, the everyman winner of the oldest major at Portrush last summer, actually thinks for once that the lack of “mayhem” that an Irish Open brings into the orbit of its home stars could work in his favour should he be in contention down the stretch on Sunday afternoon.
Lowry, 33, has had 10 attempts at regaining the title that transformed his life in 2009 when he won the Irish Open in the rain at Baltry when still an amateur. The closest he has come is the tie for fifth place he achieved behind Paul Casey at Carton House in 2013.
Yet with a major title now on his CV and rivals Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, and outgoing champion Jon Rahm all out of the fight, the absence of an adoring army of supporters may prove advantageous, even if Irish expectations rest squarely on his shoulders.
“I don’t think it is possible for me to have more expectations than I always do at an Irish Open,” Lowry, the tournament favourite, said yesterday. “If anything, having no crowds here, I will miss them, but it might help me a little bit because I probably try a little bit hard in front of the crowds at times and it does me in.
“I felt like the last couple of years at the Irish Open have probably been a little bit better than previous years, so no matter what week I go out to play, I do put a bit of pressure on myself and that is just the way I am. I just think it is trying to keep the pressure off me a little bit and to go out there and be myself, play golf and don’t get in my own way, and see where that leaves me at the end of the week.”
Speaking prior to his only practice round at Galgorm, he added that he felt the lack of crowds “probably affects people in the right way that are in contention”.
“There are certain times when you’re playing a final round in a big tournament where you get into a scenario and the crowds are in your head or in your way, all that type of stuff. It plays a big factor.
“It’s normal for us now. I’ve played 10 tournaments, maybe more, since we’ve come back. I’m learning how to deal with it.
Returning to Ireland for the first time since February, having spent lockdown in Florida, this is Lowry’s first trip to Antrim since he raised the Claret Jug up the road at Royal Portrush.
It would have been sooner had the Irish Open gone ahead as originally planned, at Mount Juliet at the end of May.
“I was extremely excited to go up to Mount Juliet this year to play it as the Open champion and I was selfishly looking forward to playing the Irish Open in front of my home fans as a major champion, but that obviously didn’t happen with everything that went down,” he said before reiterating his commitment to his national open.
“When this venue and the date came up, I wanted to come and play because I feel like I owe it to the Irish Open. Not owe it, it’s maybe a weird word, but I owe it to them, and the Tour, and to support the event.
“To come here and try and give it my best shot to come out and win it again, that is the reason I am here this week and I don’t think there will ever be a time that I won’t play in the Irish Open. That is what I have shown this week, just how I feel about the event.”
Lowry was not denying he will also be glad to get this final leg of his golfing marathon out of the way in order to be reunited for an extended period of downtime with wife Wendy and their daughter Iris.
“I flew in on Monday, I went home and self-isolated in my house for a couple of days and drove up here this morning.
We were in touch with everyone involved, the HSE and the whole lot and we figured out what was the right thing to do. I got to see them, but not too closely. I’m looking forward to a few weeks off, I’m looking forward to spending some time with them, be able to walk Iris down to school — it’ll be pretty nice.
“Nine weeks away, without making excuses it probably affected me a little bit towards the end, it was maybe too difficult.
“When you start playing badly you wonder what you’re doing it for, what’s the reason you’re here, why are you bothering doing this. It was tough and it was a learning curve. We’re in strange times in the world and in our lives so you have to try and make the best decisions you can and get on with it.”