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The highs and lows that led Shane Lowry to a major title

September 18, 2019
MEDINAH, IL: Shane Lowry during practice prior to the BMW Championship on August 13, 2019 at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois.(Photo by Nick Laham)

Editor’s Note: Three weeks after an Irishman won the first Open Championship played on the island in almost seven decades, Shane Lowry sat down with Golf Digest having had time to savor the enormity of his accomplishment. Lowry, 32, was interviewed by Contributing Editor John Huggan before the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship at Medinah, and they covered a variety of topics, including tips on getting kids into the game (and what drives them away from it), what it’s like to sit on the lead with 18 holes to play in a major, the scourge of slow play and the key to planning a perfect wedding. You’ll get a feel for the good times, but also for the doubts that dog every golfer at his level. Oh, and they shared plenty of laughs. You’ll enjoy the conversation.

• • •

OK, think back: You’ve just holed the putt to win the Open at Royal Portrush. Take us through the next 24 hours of your life.

Wow. It was a dream, really. Like so many other kids, I stood on practice greens thinking, This one for the Open. Growing up in the U.K. or Ireland, that’s what you do. So, while I’m not saying it was an anticlimax—it wasn’t—I won by quite a few [six strokes], and the feeling wasn’t quite the same. I had been able to enjoy it all for a few minutes before that last putt. When I knocked it in, it was like, What do I do? I raised my arms. I hugged my caddie [Bo Martin]. My wife, Wendy, came out. My parents were there.

I tell you what was really nice was seeing so many others. GMac [Graeme McDowell] was there. Paddy [Harrington] was there. Ricky Elliott [Brooks Koepka’s caddie, a native of Portrush] was there. My caddie’s wife was there. Neil [Manchip, Lowry’s coach] was there.

It’s funny, it was only last week that I started looking at YouTube videos on my phone. That was the first time I had seen myself going up to all those people, the ones who have had the biggest influences on my career. That was really cool.

• • •

Is it all a bit of a blur after that?

The one thing I really felt—and I still do—was a sense of how lucky I am to achieve something like that. And to do it in the way I did it, where I did it, is just amazing. If I was to sit down with a piece of paper and write down all the events I’d want to win over the course of my career, then pick out the one I would most want to win, it would be an Open in Ireland. It would be in the top two, anyway. [Laughs.]

• • •

This might sound a bit odd, but you’ve written the first paragraph of your obituary.

That’s true. [Laughs.] ... amazing.

• • •

When did you jump in the car that Sunday?

It must have been about 9 p.m., after I had done all the media stuff. We had to go back to the house in Bushmills to pick up our stuff. My manager, Conor Ridge, drove. Wendy and my daughter, Iris, were in the car. And my friend Alan Clancy, who owns bars in Dublin, was in the last seat. The lads had asked me that morning what I wanted to do. I told them, no matter what, I wanted to wake up in Dublin on Monday morning. So that was where we went. Alan had organized a party.

• • •

And you went viral.

Yeah. [Laughs.] We got to my house about 1 a.m.

• • •

So the party was quite short?

No, no, as in from Portrush. It took us about three and a half hours to get home. Our baby sitter was there to take care of Iris, and we went out from there. We had a good night.

• • •

Judging by the footage of you singing, that’s an understatement.

Yeah, I really enjoyed the next week. To be honest, I didn’t drink that much. I wanted to take it all in, soak it all in and enjoy everything that was going on. I did have a few drinks that Sunday night, though.

• • •

You must have been running on adrenaline.

Exactly. We didn’t get to the bar until about 1:30, and we were there until about 7 a.m. I actually enjoyed the last couple of hours most of all. The people closest to me were there then. All the hangers-on had fizzled out and gone home. We got a taxi home—it’s only 15 minutes—and went to bed. I woke up maybe two hours later. And there was the claret jug sitting on my bedside locker.

Shane Lowry

Nick Laham

Has anything surprised you about the trophy?

There’s actually a mistake. I’m not sure I should say this, but when Fred Daly won in 1947, he did so at Hoylake. But on the trophy it reads Holylake. Padraig told me about that. When I showed him the trophy, he said, “Yup, that’s the one.” But the history of the thing is just incredible. When I look at it and see Tom Morris 1872, I’m thinking, Wow. That’s the first thing anyone does, I think, looking at the names. I can’t stop reading them all. My friends are the same. And my name is there. That’s the one thing that sticks out for me: I’m on there forever.

• • •

I remember going to Padraig's house. You can’t miss his two claret jugs and his Wanamaker Trophy for his PGA Championship win. They’re right there when you walk in.

I always slag him for that. [Laughs.] I go in there, and they hit you in the face when you walk into the kitchen. That’s where mine is going—in the kitchen.

• • •

You get a replica trophy, right?

Yes, after a year. About 90 percent of actual size.

• • •

I’m going to take you back 24 hours from the party. What was the time like between holing out on the 18th green Saturday evening and driving off the first tee on Sunday?

We finished quite late on Saturday. It was mental that evening, the craziest thing I’ve ever seen on a golf course. The crowds were singing as I finished.

• • •

You did play at an extraordinary level—63 on that course.

I didn’t realize how well I had played until I finished. It was one of those days when I was on a roll. I made a great up-and-down on 14, and after that I felt like I was going to birdie every hole. And I nearly did—three of the last four. But that little run was huge. I took about 10 or 15 guys out of the tournament by getting to 16 under par­—they were history.

Anyway, I got back to the house about 8:30, and we had dinner. We had a great chef that week—a friend of a friend. As well as the three of us, Neil was staying there, and Alan. It was all fairly calm. The people around me were more nervous than I was. They were scared that the high of Saturday was going to turn into a low on Sunday, but I was fairly good.

I didn’t sleep well, though. I went to bed around 11. It must have been midnight before I got to sleep. And I was awake at 6. Moving the tee times up [because of a forecast calling for rain and wind] helped me, though. I didn’t have so long to wait. I got up around 8 and played with Iris. And I watched a bit of the golf on television, trying to get a feel for the course. Again, everyone else around me seemed a bit more anxious than I was. This was obviously a big deal. I remember saying, “There’s no in between today. It’s either going to be the best day of my life, or one of the worst.”

• • •

What was your teacher saying to you?

We had great chats all week. Even that morning, we went for a walk. He was saying, “You’ll get in the car and go to the course, and before you know it, it will be over.” And he was right. I tried to keep things normal, though. I went to the course at the same time I would have for any event. I did the same things. I marked up my balls. I did my pins. I had something to eat. I went to warm up. It was important to do what I always did.

• • •

Was Neil saying anything technical, swing-wise?

Nothing at all. On the Tuesday and Wednesday, I didn’t feel like my game was in great shape. It was all right. But that was just me getting a bit anxious about such a big week.


Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Did you think the weather on the last day was a help or a hindrance? The really low score was eliminated, but the big number on any hole was a possibility.

That’s how I felt. I knew that keeping the big numbers off my card was key. I actually said this to Neil that morning: The one thing I took away from Oakmont in 2016 [when Lowry led the U.S. Open by four strokes entering the final round but finished three behind winner Dustin Johnson] is that I didn’t play aggressively enough in the final round. So, without getting ahead of myself, I knew that if I made four or five birdies, I would be very hard to beat. I ended up making four.

• • •

Did the disappointment of Oakmont linger?

I feel like I should have won, but there are plenty of top players who have led big events with 18 holes to play and not won, so I’m hardly unique. It was a big disappointment. I don’t think you can plan to peak in certain weeks. I just don’t. If you do try to peak for a certain event, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself.

Dustin Johnson played some great golf and won. But if he had not been there, I would have been playing off for the title on the Monday. So, while I maybe should have won—I was tied for the lead with five holes to go—I had three three-putts in a row on 14-15-16. But it’s behind me.

The aim is to make the results not matter, even if they do. If I go out and finish, say, 40th, I would obviously want to do better, but there are bigger things in life to worry about. I’m a very ambitious person. I’m driven. And I’m competitive. I want to do as well as I can. And every week there are times when I’m not happy with what I’m doing or some of the shots I’m hitting. I get pissed off. But I still want to get to a place where hitting a 7-iron in the water is not the biggest deal in the world. Once you’ve done it, there’s nothing else you can do other than take your drop and hit another one. I feel like I’ve got to that place over the last 12 months. I’m playing with freedom, and I’m hitting good shots under pressure. Nothing gives me more satisfaction.

• • •

What was the better score at Portrush, the 63 on Saturday or the 72 on Sunday?

The 72 was a really, really good score. We got lucky on the Saturday when the wind died down. Links golf in calm conditions is easy, especially when the greens are good and not too fast. So under the circumstances, 72 was really good.

• • •

How did the pressure of being Irish in Ireland affect you?

I’ve struggled at Irish Opens over the years, and I always put it down to the pressure of playing in front of a home crowd who desperately want you to do well. But I never felt that at Portrush. Going in, I felt like the event was GMac’s and Rory’s and Darren’s. [Clarke also grew up not far from the course.] Which was fine. I wanted to go there under the radar. Only when I was leading [sharing the lead after rounds of 67-67] did I get much attention. It took the media awhile to get to me. There were other stories to write. So that helped me in terms of feeling pressure.

• • •

What were the pluses and minuses of growing up alongside Rory?

The pluses are obvious: I got to play with a superstar. And when I was younger playing amateur events, thousands of people used to come and watch because of him. It was all great training for me. At the end of each round we would speak with the journalists. So when I won the Irish Open as an amateur, I was used to playing in front of big crowds and answering questions. I’d done plenty of interviews. That all helped.

• • •

Was there ever a moment where you thought, I can’t beat this guy?

No. I had a great chance to win at Wentworth [in 2014]. The two of us were in contention. And he ended up beating me by a shot. I probably should have beaten him, though. I had a great chance. And I’ve beaten him in the World Match Play.

• • •

Your game has always struck me as perfect for links golf—or should be.

Yes, but it hasn’t really been that way over the years. I spent some time getting in my own way.

• • •

Your short game has always been one of the best parts of your game. Do you have any idea how you pitch and chip, or is it all feel?

I do it by feel. There was a point this year when my chipping wasn’t as good as it should be. And purely by playing around with it myself, I came up with a solution. I weakened my left-hand grip. That made the clubface less strong. So, when I need a little spinny chip, I go with that grip. Even today, when Neil was out there, I was chipping away as we talked. He would drop a few balls, and I would just hit the shot I saw. That’s how I do it, and that’s how I’ve always done it.

• • •

You famously have chipping competitions with Padraig.

We haven’t done that much this year. That must be why I’m doing well. [Laughs.] He isn’t knocking my confidence by beating me all the time.

• • •

How does it work?

Let’s say he gets to pick first. But whoever wins that hole gets to pick the next one. So if you’re winning, you pick the shots that suit you. We play first to 10. The stakes are usually $50 or €50, not enough to hurt. It’s more about the competition than the stakes. We’d fall out too much if the stakes were bigger. We play to stop being bored. When that happens, you end up hitting bad shots. And when you do that, there’s no point being out there.

• • •

Do you like rough around the greens or tight lies?

Not rough. Take Medinah. There is U.S. Open-style rough around the greens, so everyone just opens the clubface and hits the ball hard. There’s not a lot of subtlety to it. I prefer it when the ball runs away from the greens. That takes the bad chippers out of it. I like it when there are three or four options to consider. But when I get to my ball, I usually see the shot pretty quickly. I’m at my best then. And that’s the way I’ve been playing this year. I’ve let myself hit the shot I see to hole it. But under pressure I might not hit that shot because messing up would be too costly. Sometimes an eight-footer for par is OK.

Chipping is easier in Europe, though. It’s easier to have a good short game—the greens are softer and slower. So if you miss on the short side, you’re not in as much trouble as you would be in the U.S. Take the Memorial at Muirfield Village. Short-side yourself there, and you have a 20-footer for par, at best. That’s after a good chip.

Shane Lowry

Nick Laham

How important was your win in Abu Dhabi in January to what you’ve achieved since? Did it dispel some doubts?

I’m not sure I’d go that far, even though the last few years have not been great—I lost my PGA Tour card, for example. The back-and-forth between Europe and America was just weighing on me. It was tough. The end result was I dropped out of the top 50 in the world. So I wasn’t in the WGCs and not picking up the easy points you get from them. But I was still maybe top 20 in Europe. It wasn’t like I was falling off the edge of any cliffs.

• • •

But you’re better than that.

And that’s why there were no alarms going off. I wanted to do better, but I always believed in what I was doing. It’s just a difficult game we play, and sometimes you just have to wait for your turn. I know we all say we never read anything in the media, but it’s almost impossible to avoid it completely. There are always critics and doubters out there.

• • •

Do you tinker with your swing much? In an increasingly scientific world, you’re still a bit of an artist.

That’s nice to hear. I’ve never once made a “swing change.” There are times when I get on the range with Neil, and I’m telling him what I’ve been feeling. He needs that feedback. But for me the game’s 90-percent setup. If I get that correct, I’m fine. Take last week. I couldn’t hit my 3-wood as high as I wanted to. All I had was a low cut. As soon as Neil heard that, he knew my ball position was too far forward. I was able to chase after the ball and hit it low, but if I tried to hit it higher, I was drop-kicking and hitting it right and left.

I always have a feeling. I’m never trying to swing the club; I’m always trying to hit a shot. Let’s say I’m on a hole that moves from left to right. I’ll see a fade. And I’ll hit a fade by setting up a little open and moving the ball forward a little. It’s instinctive. And if I need a low draw, I think low draw. I’m never thinking, I need to take the club back more on the inside here. If I give clinics, I always tell people all I can do is tell them what I do. I can’t give golf lessons. Actually, I could, but I’d have to think about it. [Laughs.] I’m very visual and feel-oriented. I’m certainly not scientific.

• • •

But the game at your level has gone a long way down that path.

That’s true. I see all the lads with TrackMans. I don’t use them at all. If you look at guys on the range at tournaments. the majority are out there doing “guilty practice.” I think so, anyway.

I’ve been told many times over the years that I don’t work hard enough or practice enough. But there are guys on ranges every day who are out there only because everyone else is doing that. I know I can hit all the shots when I want to, at least most of the time. I know I can chip and putt well. So standing there hitting balls just gets in the way of that a little bit.

• • •

How much time do you spend in the gym?

I do a bit of everything, but I’m not that disciplined about it. I’ve been a similar weight for a few years. I go through phases. Sometimes I’m going every day. On others, I’m too tired and want to save my energy for something else.

I must admit I’ve always received a bit of stick about my weight. I’ve always been heavier than average. I was pretty good at Gaelic football as a kid. But I was also a bit slower than most. I wasn’t as fit or as fast.

I’ve never been one for listening too much to those who tell me I should lose weight or work out more. I have a great group of people around me who have always believed in me more than I ever have myself. I listen to them. Only last year, I was struggling for confidence. Maybe the best thing about Portrush is that I’ll never again be asked when I’m going to win a major. It’s hard to talk about golf when you’re not playing well.

• • •

Knowing what you look like when you’re playing well, is Neil always moving you toward that ideal?

That’s right. Today I told him I was struggling to hit a draw last week. I was hitting them left. And starting left and going left is not what you want to see. But he wasn’t that unhappy with that. When I’m playing well, I move the ball left to right easier than any other shot. So he told me not to worry. “When you get out on the course and you need to hit a draw, you will.” That reassured me a lot. Neil has been the most influential person on my career.

• • •

The weather at Portrush was a bit nasty at times, but it was even worse when you won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur.

That’s funny. I’ve struggled in the Open over the last few years, and I’ve struggled in bad weather. But I recently watched video of me winning at Baltray. I could not believe how bad the rain was. It was almost as bad as that downpour we had at Portrush. That was brutal. But at Portrush it didn’t last. It was all day at Baltray. Which is a great course. I think of it as a slightly easier version of Muirfield.

Your mum won more money at that Irish Open than you did with the bet she made on you.

She did. [Laughs.] I won nothing. I think she won over $16,000.

Going back to the very beginning, you got into golf playing pitch-and-putt courses.

It’s a great game. And just about every small town in Ireland has a pitch-and-putt course. The holes vary between 40 and 70 yards. And there was one in my hometown. My cousin Gary was keen. He’s two years older than me, and I wanted to hang out with him. But you couldn’t join until you’re 10. I lied about my age when I was 9. My dad bought me a pitching wedge and a putter from the local sweet shop. I was up there all day, every day. And there were loads of us, all young people. It was where we used to hang out. Golf took over when I was about 13 or 14, but I played pitch-and-putt until I was 16. There’s been a lot of talk lately about golf being too slow and taking too long. But pitch-and putt isn’t slow. And it’s a great way to introduce kids to the game. It’s fun, and they can shoot low scores pretty quickly.

One problem I see is that there are too many pushy parents these days. I have friends who are coaches telling me that all the time. People see the dollar signs. So they want their kids to be great. But if a kid wants to play, just let him go with a few clubs. Not even the best set. Let him have fun. Let him or her go and play. Let them find out what a great game it is. And if they start to show real promise, get them a bit of guidance from a coach. But I wouldn’t say get them coaching right off the bat.

If you get coaching when you’re too young and you’re standing there beating balls every day, you’re going to get bored. You’ll get to hate the game because it will feel like work. When I was a kid, I played a lot of golf on my own. I loved being on my own, chipping around the greens and inventing shots. When I chipped in, I was the happiest little kid alive.

Shane Lowry

Nick Laham

Slow play: Is there a solution at the tour level?

Golf courses are getting longer. They’re getting harder. The greens are faster. And the rough is thicker. All of which slow down play. So I’m not sure we can ever make the game any quicker. It’s always going to take a long time.

At Medinah, we’re playing a par 3 that measures 250 yards. For a start, we have to walk an extra 50 yards back to the tee. Then an extra 50 yards back to the green. That all takes time.

So we’ll get ’round in just over five hours. And if we played speed golf, we’d probably knock maybe 20 minutes off that time, which makes no difference.

• • •

I had a walk ’round the Old Course a few months ago. I paced off how far it is to walk back to the championship tees, then back to where I started. That adds more than 2,000 yards to the experience. To go nowhere.

I know, but I don’t think there’s a solution. Not at tour level. Other than penalizing the slow guys with added shots.

What I do have a problem with is the player who is so slow he starts to get in the way of the guys he’s paired with. That’s the big problem. There has been a lot of talk recently about Bryson [DeChambeau], but it’s not just him. I could name a few more, although I’m not going to. Those guys are just selfish. We’re all out here trying to make a living and do our best. And while it isn’t my right to feel like someone else is in my way, it’s difficult not to get annoyed when he’s taking 90 seconds to hit a shot, and only after he’s done is it my turn to play. Then it’s a problem for me.

• • •

So it isn’t fixable?

I genuinely don’t think so. At East Lake for the Tour Championship, first prize is $15 million. So if a guy wants to take 30 seconds more on a shot, he’s going to do that.

• • •

Let’s talk about the Ryder Cup. A big ambition?

Oh, yes. I sat down with my coach and managers last December and came up with a schedule that was aimed at giving me the best chance of making the next Ryder Cup team. That’s my biggest ambition in golf. I want to be at Whistling Straits. It was all about the Ryder Cup.

• • •

How are you going to balance playing in Europe and America going forward?

My schedule next year will actually be pretty similar to this year. We’ve talked about it a lot since Portrush. I’ve had a lot of offers. I could go ’round the world picking up money for playing in events. But, ultimately my goal is the same—to be on the plane to Whistling Straits. Winning the Open helps, but I got no Ryder Cup points. I still have to perform from September onwards. But if and when I get there, I know I’ll be able to perform under the severest pressure.

I’m going to be a rookie, though. So I think I’ll have to qualify for the team; I can’t be banking on a pick.

• • •

Padraig being captain works for you and against you, too.

It’s like if your dad is the manager of your team. It can make things harder for you. I’d give anything to make it. I like to think I’ll be good in the team room. I think I’d be happy in all the formats. My short game makes me useful in foursomes, and I make a lot of birdies, which is good in four-ball play. I have what it takes to be a Ryder Cup player. I should have made it in 2016. I messed up the last month when all I had to do was play half-decent.

• • •

About your beard—is it permanent?

My wife loves it, so there’s no getting rid of it. If I shaved it, people wouldn’t recognize me, which might not be a bad thing on occasion. [Laughs.] But it’s staying for a while.

• • •

You got married in New York. Take us through that process.

We had a venue booked, Mount Juliet [in Ireland] for New Year’s Eve, 2016. But when we got into the planning, we started to realize we didn’t want all that. We could only have a certain number of guests, so that meant disappointing people. Then my wife read about an Irish couple who just went off to New York, hired a photographer and did it. So did we.

We flew from Augusta to New York after the final round of the Masters. We registered in City Hall on the Monday morning. We had the best week ever. We stayed in the Mandarin Oriental, which was unbelievable, on Central Park. We got married on the Tuesday [April 12] and stayed until the Friday. We came home and had a big party June 10—we sent out the invitations for that the day we got married—which was the Friday before the U.S. Open at Oakmont. I think that’s the way to do it. The party was pretty much the wedding without the church. I tell all my friends to do that.

• • •

Where and when did you meet your wife?

In a Dublin bar. [Laughs.] We hit it off pretty quickly. I knew she was the one almost right away. She’s a great mother and a great wife. She’s a great person to have around. Nurses are great people. They don’t get paid half enough. And they’re devoted to what they do.

Wendy is a psychiatric nurse, but when I met her she was doing a year in pediatrics at the children’s hospital on Temple Street in Dublin. We’ve done some charity things for them. Wendy ran a marathon and donated over €20,000. We went in there with the claret jug after I won, which was pretty cool.


Nick Laham

You once told me there are three photographs on the wall in your parents’ house: your brother and sister are shown in their graduation gowns, and you’re holding the Irish Open trophy. I’m thinking that will be replaced soon enough.

I think you’re right there; the Irish Open’s days are numbered.

Last question: Teacher Pete Cowen remembers you as “the little fat kid with the glasses.” How do you remember Pete Cowen?

[Laughs.] The man in black. I love that he’s so blunt. I’m very friendly with Pete. He’s helped me a bit over the years. He has done so much in the game. I first met him at a coaching session. Neil got him to come over. And probably had to pay huge money, knowing Pete. [Laughs.]