Shane Lowry fizzing for golf’s ‘fifth major’ – at Mount Juliet

Shane Lowry took to social media a day or two ago to declare he was en route to golf’s “fifth major”, ratcheting up the patriotic fervour further by adorning the post with a clip of him tapping in the winning putt in 2009 before being enveloped by jubilant fans in a hurry to hail Ireland’s new clean-shaven amateur hero.

Fast-forward to the Mount Juliet Estate media centre at lunchtime on Wednesday and the owner of pro golf’s most recognisable beard happily doubled down on his love for, and loyalty to, the Island of Ireland’s national championship.

If the 35-year-old former Open Champion from Offaly wasn’t reminiscing about Irish Opens past, those won as a 22-year-old at a sodden County Louth Golf Club or earlier still attended as a starry-eyed spectator, he was enthusing about how “I’d love to be the Irishman to do well” at this week’s $6 million DP World Tour stop.

But isn’t it tough dealing with all the expectation and well-meaning “hangers-on”, Lowry was asked? His retort was emphatic.

“I was actually talking about it the other night, you come back to Ireland like once a year to play this tournament. And especially this year, when things have been going well and I’ve been playing quite good, there’s no point shying away, one of the highest ranked players in the field, one of the top Irish players, one of the players that people really want to do well.  There’s expectation there.

 

“Well, I want to go there, like come off the back of the ninth green, lots of kids there waiting for me, last thing I’m going to do is walk past them just because I want to protect myself or play well. I kind of have to do a bit of both where obviously I want to play well when it comes to tomorrow at 8 o’clock, I’m standing on the 10th tee, I’m going to be in game mode. All around that, I’m just going to be myself and be as good as I can with everyone and just give people what they want. Because I think that’s just nice. When I was a kid coming to The Irish Open, that’s what I wanted.”

 

Is the new Tour alliance good for the game?

Like with the the fans, nor was Lowry shying away from thornier issues such as the freshly announced operational JV partnership with the PGA Tour and how that might, hopefully, address the strength of the field of one of the circuit’s preeminent events, this week sadly minus one Rory McIlroy.

“Look, there’s no doubt about it, we don’t have the best field here this week,” Lowry said. “We have a few of the top players in the world, myself and Seamus [Power], and we have Paddy (Padraig Harrington) coming back from winning the U.S. Open, which is great, but we would like to have a stronger field here, there’s no doubt about that.

“Personally, I do feel like the date could be looked at. We talk about this every year, and I’ve talked about it with the tour every year, and we’d love to have the date where we can guarantee Rory coming back and playing here every year, what works for his schedule.”

Lowry says the extension of the strategic alliance with the PGA Tour is “only good for golf.” But where that leaves the Irish Open, whether it might eventually lead to an increased prize fund or eventually co-sanctioned status like next week’s Gensesis Scottish Open, remains to be seen.

“…at the end of the day, we do need to acknowledge what he’s done for the tournament and what he needs to do to get ready to play his Majors, because that’s what it’s all about for him at the moment,” Lowry continued on McIlroy. “But I’m not working for the tour or behind the scenes. I don’t really know what goes on into having tournaments at certain dates. There’s nothing much else I can say about that.”

 

National Hero

The best thing Lowry can really do for his national open is to keep signing autographs and allow his golf to do the talking. He arrived at his “fifth major” having missed the cut in the last official one, the recent U.S. Open at Brookline. But that blip masked a purple patch that has included seven top-15 finishes in 2022 including solo second at the Honda Classic and T3 finishes at The Masters and RCB Heritage.

“Obviously I’d love myself to do well this week. I’d love myself to be the Irishman to do well,” said Lowry who finished T29 here last year and was in the galleries when Ernie Els won the WGC-American Express at Mount Juliet in 2004.

“I’d love it if Seamus or Padraig, or even anybody, we were all up there on Sunday afternoon and one of us won it. It would be great for the tournament and it’d be great for golf if that was the case.

“I’ve been knocking on the door this year and I feel like it’s not far away. If it’s not this week, I do hope it’s at St Andrews [at The Open].”

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