Shane Lowry might not appear to have much in common with Pablo Picasso but making the complex look easy is something that’s only within the compass of life’s geniuses.
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child,” Picasso once said.
After finishing his delayed third round with two birdies in the last four holes for a 65 he said was the best round of his life, Lowry had a four-shot lead over Dustin Johnson and Andrew Landry on seven under par heading into the final round.
He looked cool and calm as he headed to the first tee with his coach Neil Manchip, stopping at the ninth to check out the pin position.
Just over 75 minutes later, his four shot lead was down to just one over Johnson and it happened without doing very much wrong on a course that is as treacherous as it is beautiful.
He did well to par the first, overshooting the green after a slightly quick swing found the left rough but pitching to four feet and then rolling in the putt.
At the second, he screwed his 133 yard approach off the green and 25 yards down the fairway before taking three more from there to slip back to six under.
His lead was down to two as Johnson birdied the second to get to three under and when he missed a 25 foot birdie chance at the third and then left himself no shot in greenside rough at the par-five fourth and walked off with a par, the pressure began to mount.
A poor drive, followed by a heavy second into one of the dry ditches, left him an impossibly recovery and he did well to make bogey, running his 30 footer eight feet past before nervelessly rolling in his second putt.
Keen observers of the big Clara man might have noticed last night that he’s got a raw athleticism about him these days — a Ray Floyd like ability to exude strength and finesse simultaneously — part of an ambitious plan to prepare the pride of Co Offaly for life as a perennial major contender.
Like his magical short game and that impressive ball-striking prowess, it’s no accident that he’s moving so well.
As his strength and conditioning coach Robbie Cannon will tell you, Lowry went into the final round of last night’s US Open looking every inch a contender not just because he’s been killing himself in the gym for the last two winters, but because he’s gifted.
“Shane played a lot of sports growing up and thanks to this he has really fantastic movement skills,” says Cannon. “You don’t swing the golf club as sweetly as he does without them.” Lowry, as they say, chose his parents well with All-Ireland winning dad Brendan and mother Bridget giving him that exciting cocktail of sporting genes and a winning personality that makes his every inch the People’s Champion.
His Scottish coach, Neil Manchip often jokes about the TV commentators who gush about his man’s mesmerising short game skills.
“Magnificent touch from the big man,” he chortles, knowing full well that it’s a skill Lowry worked himself to the bone to develop as a teenager at Esker Hills and before that, on the pitch and putt courses near his home.
“I am trying to leave no stone unturned and just kick on and I know I am in a place where I can do something special in the game, so I just need to do it now,” he said last year as he broke into the world’s Top 50 and contended for the US Open.
Amazingly, Lowry was disqualified in the first two senior events he played as an amateur — signing for a wrong score in qualifying for the 2006 West of Ireland at Rosses Point and then forgetting to sign his card at all in the Irish Amateur Open at Portmarnock a few weeks later. That fed the perception of him as the happy-go-lucky, somewhat scatterbrained, pint-loving, GAA-watching, rugby-following Offaly man the fans love.
But while there is a grain of truth in that, it’s hardly the true story of an elite sportsman in the 21st century.
Master professional Pete Cowen will never forget the first time he laid eyes on the pride of Clara during a coaching session as a consultant for the GUI.
“There were a lot of talented players at that first session but two of them stood out, a curly head little kid from Holywood and a fat kid with glasses,” Cowen recalls.
Lowry, he sensed, had more than a desire to be great. He simply had to be great.
“I know a million kids that want to be great players but I don’t know half a dozen that need to be great players,” Cowen says.
“So you look them in the eye to see if there is that need to be the best. And in the top players you can see that need, they’ll always look straight back at you, not looking past you. They almost look into you, and you know they need it.”
Lowry is one of that rare breed of sportsmen with the talent to go with the desire.
Winner of the Irish Close in 2007, the West of Ireland, North of Ireland and European Nations Cup in 2008 as well as back to back European Amateur Team championships in 2007 and 2008, Lowry was bound for the 2009 Walker Cup side until he won the Irish Open at Baltray in 2009 as an amateur After taking on Dermot Byrne as caddie to replace his pal Dave “Shaper” Reynolds, he ended that year ranked 135th in the world, then climbed to 52nd at the end of 2012 when he broke through to win his maiden title as professional in the Portugal Masters.
The 2013 season was frustrating as he battled to make the world’s top 50 but went backwards instead before deciding to dedicate himself and become more professional, especially when it came to fitness and flexibility.
In 2014, he was runner up to McIlroy in the BMW PGA at Wentworth and shared of ninth behind his former amateur team mate in The Open, moving to 44th in the world at the end of the year.
When he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last year, he achieved his dream of winning in the US and rose as high as 17th in the world last November.
“I always wanted to do it, even when I was 14 years old playing off 18,” he said after he won the Irish Open, turned pro and then missed 10 of his first 20 cuts.
“Then I gradually started getting better every year and getting my handicap down. Then, all of a sudden, I got into the Irish Boys squad, I was 17, 2005, I’ll never forget that.
“I wasn’t supposed to be on that panel — Rory was supposed to be on it but didn’t come, so I was put on as 14th man, won one of the trials, was second in the other, made the team and just kicked on from there really. Rory was 15 but was playing men’s golf.
“When I was there, I realised this is what I always wanted to do and, thankfully, my parents let me do it. When I left school, all I wanted to do was play golf.”
It’s been gradual, structured improvement since then from a player who is now 29 and a world star already following last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational win.
And while he is not a player who likes to think too deeply about technique, Lowry is highly critical of himself and knows what works for him.
“I’m not very technically minded,” he admitted after winning in Akron. “The work I do with my coach Neil Manchip is quite simple. Hopefully, I can stay with Neil for the rest of my career and keep things going the way they are now.
“If you look back over the last few years, I tried too hard at first to make cuts, didn’t make them and then learned how to do it. Then I tried too hard to do well, didn’t do well, then started. Tried too hard to win, then relaxed and won. This is just another step in my career.”
Recently married to Wendy, life could not be better for Lowry, whose career has been on an upward curve since that magical day at Baltray seven years ago.
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