Lowry has Irish eyes smiling

Shane Lowry probably isn’t going to be the face of Irish golf any time soon, but he is making a name for himself.

When Rory McIlroy struggled on his way to missing the cut in the U.S. Open at Oakmont three weeks ago, Lowry picked up Ireland’s banner and carried it almost to the finish line, winding up three strokes behind Dustin Johnson in a tie for second.

Lowry wasn’t accepting any moral victories.

“Bitterly disappointed standing here,” said Lowry, who will defend his title this week in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “And, you know, it’s not easy to get yourself in a position I got myself in today. It was there for the taking, and I didn’t take it.

“But, you know, you can only learn from your mistakes, I always say it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. I’m sure I learned a lot from today, and I don’t know what it is yet, but when I’m in that position again, and I know I will be, I’ll handle it probably a little bit better. …

“I’ll get back on my horse and get to Bridgestone in a couple of weeks and hopefully make a good show in my defense there.”

Unlike his pal McIlroy, Lowry, 29, was a bit of a late bloomer. He waited to turn pro until after he captured the 2009 Irish Open in a playoff over Robert Rock of England.

After winning for the first time as a pro in the 2012 Portugal Masters, Lowry achieved another of his goals when he claimed his first PGA Tour victory by two strokes over Bubba Watson in the Bridgestone last year.

“It’s fairly special to go out and do that, and such a good feel to shoot a bogey-free 66 on the golf course like that,” Lowry said while holding the trophy at Firestone Country Club, a place where the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Jose Maria Olazabal and McIlroy also won. “I know it will stay with me now for the rest of my career, and hopefully I’ve got a long career ahead of me. I’ve got a good exemption there in Europe, a good exemption there on the PGA Tour as well.

“I think obviously the Irish Open got my career kick-started. It was great for me. But I think this is getting the next stage of my career kick-started.

“I feel like I’ve been playing good golf for the last couple of years. I’ve been in and around top 50 in the world and trying to get into events. … I was never too far away. So, I think this is going to give me the confidence hopefully to drive on now and win more events and hopefully the flood gates will open.”

While Lowry, who is two years older than McIlroy, wasn’t the instant sensation his friend became, Irish golf officials still knew who he was at an early age.

Pete Cowan, the noted English golf instructor, was a consultant for the Golfing Union of Ireland, and he recalls a gathering in which the best young talent in Ireland was assembled.

“There were a lot of talented players at that first session, but two of them stood out — a curly head little kid (McIlroy) from Holywood and a fat kid (Lowry, from Clara) with glasses,” Cowen recalled, saying he could see that Lowry had more than ability.

“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. 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. …

“He was like that.”

Lowry’s play last season and this has guaranteed him another one of his goals, to represent Ireland in the Olympic Games in August in Rio de Janeiro.

If Lowry continues to play as well as he has, he figures to achieve another career goal and make the European team for the Ryder Cup in October at Hazeltine.

“I want to play in the Olympics,” said Lowry, who has played alongside McIlroy in other events for Ireland. “I’m very patriotic, so I want to play for my country.

“So, yeah, this obviously puts me right in position to be in the Olympics. … I think the Olympics and the Ryder Cup are two big things on my list (this) year.”

It appeared he would be playing alongside McIlroy in Rio, but McIlroy and Graeme McDowell withdrew from consideration for the Games last week, so now it looks as if Lowry will team with three-time major champion Padraig Harrington.

Regardless of his teammates, Lowry is ready to carry the Irish flag again.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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