Shane Lowry enjoyed his idea of the perfect birthday on Saturday, a round of golf with his closest buddies.
That may sound so-so, particularly for a professional golfer ranked 32 in the world, but the 18 holes Lowry played with coach Neil Manchip and caddie Dermot Byrne just happened to be at a peaceful Augusta National.
A round without spectators at the home of the Masters followed by another nine holes on Sunday and with a celebratory meal at one of Augusta’s best steakhouses in between was the perfect way to turn 29 as far as the Offaly man was concerned.
It was also the ideal reintroduction to a course and tournament that had overawed him just a little 12 months ago, even it had arisen from a missed cut the previous afternoon at the Shell Houston Open in Texas.
In two days Lowry will embark on his second Masters, a year on from failing to make the weekend on his debut and feeling more comfortable with his surroundings.
“It was actually a little bit different. I suppose I was a little bit less in awe of the place,” Lowry said yesterday before practice on a warm, sunny day in Georgia. “I imagine (your Masters debut) it’s a bit like your first time playing in Croke Park. You are standing there looking around a little bit and if you are not with it, you kind of zone out. Everything about this is different to any other week. It’s such a special place to be here.
“It was my birthday on Saturday and we flew down and came to play here. Myself and Neil and Dermo walked around and we basically had the course to ourselves. As we were saying among ourselves there’s no better place to be on your birthday.
“It was amazing. It was quiet. You look out on the course there today and there’s thousands of people... So I’ve played a quite a bit of the course so far. It’s very firm already, which is interesting because all the rounds I played last year, it wasn’t firm at all.
“I’ll have 54 holes done before the tournament starts, which is a lot of preparation and getting to know the golf course. It’s more just getting familiar with shots and getting to know a few chip shots around the greens and stuff.
“When I got here on Saturday morning, it was soft, spinning 7-irons back, and then Saturday afternoon on the 18th green you could feel it firming up a bit.
“And then (Sunday) it was totally different. It was fast, it was firm. It was amazing the change in 24 hours but it gives me that little bit of extra preparation that I might need by the end of the week.”
Although Houston last week has been the only missed cut of the season so far, his only top 10 came at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February when he tied for sixth.
Yet he is satisfied with his driving, chipping and putting and would be more than happy if his season follows the same arc as 2015, when a top-10 finish in the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship in May sparked his campaign and led to a tie for ninth at the US Open and victory at the Bridgestone in Akron.
“It is not going great to be honest,” Lowry said. “I still have to be patient and keep going. Last year was a bit slow and it ended up being a great year. there’s a long way to go yet. The thing is, I feel like every tournament I have played has been tough. Even last week, 20 miles an hour wind Friday morning, so tough. I feel like that’s the way every week has been going for me, I probably haven’t been putting as well as I should be which is what you have to do in those positions.
“I went back to an old putter last week, I really fell like I hit some really good putts last week. I was struggling a lot with left to righters and I feel I have found something to combat that.”
Breaking his trusted driver of six years last month was another setback but Lowry is also very positive with the way he has become acquainted with his new one.
“I got a new Srixon driver last week that seemed to work really well. It’s worked in practice, so I’m really happy with that.
“I spent three days hitting drivers last week, felt like Harrington! I think it just messed up my rhythm a little bit last week, but the driver I got is really good.”
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