The Open is a major test of Shane Lowry’s credentials

The Open is a major test of Shane Lowry’s credentials

When Shane Lowry swaps the affable front for an intense competitiveness, he changes personality. That is when he hears his name announced by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews, followed by cheers from galleries that are way deeper than he is ordinarily accustomed to.

And it is when he will realise that he is no longer just playing for himself, but for his country.

With Rory McIlroy injured, Lowry assumes the mantle of Ireland’s best hope for success in this year’s Open, even though Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell will also be teeing off at St Andrews.

He’s wary of that tag. At 28, he remains a relative baby in the golfing world, and when he looks at his CV and hears his name placed alongside Harrington, Clarke and McDowell, he notices something significant. They have won Majors. He has merely made the top ten. Yet he’s the coming man.

“You know me,” he said last week, “I don't get too far ahead of myself. I just go with the flow. If I'm playing well, then I'm playing well and I will try to take advantage of that.”

This season – save for the Irish Open when he broke his putter in frustration – he has played well, finishing a credible ninth in last month’s US Open, taking one putt fewer, 125 to 126, than the eventual winner, Jordan Speith.

And at that moment in time, a realisation dawned. “I feel like I played the golf to really have a chance to win at the end. I missed a couple of short putts for par that you can't be doing that,” he said. “I just didn't really do enough. If I holed a few more putts I would have had a chance coming in on the last few (holes). But it was a good week for me. I'm back inside the top 50 in the world and a few goals have been reached.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my week, loved the golf course, loved how tough it played. It tends to suit me a lot, tough golf courses.

“When you walk away from a Major and you feel like you played the golf to win you've got to be happy with yourself.”

Clara, Co. Offaly, golfer Shane Lowry wore black as a mark of respect. Picture: Getty The Open begins on Thursday at St Andrews (Picture: Getty).

Comfort within his own skin has clearly helped Lowry move his game forward from the moment he walked off a rain-swept course in Baltray as a 22-year-old Irish Open champion in 2009.

He was an amateur then – although he immediately turned pro afterwards – and heard the whispers that his success was no more than a flash in the pan. Since then, €7 million in prize-money added to his bank balance proves he is anything but.

“Because I'm doing well, obviously people can see how much money you make and it's decent money,” he said in an interview earlier this year with the Irish Daily Mail. “You get to treat yourself to a few nice things. I always say I've wasted a few quid on a couple of cars in my day.

Although it looks like a lot of money on paper, it's not as much as people assume. My family come away with me, stuff like that. I drive a nice car, I live in a nice house and I'm lucky I'm to be able to do that.”

Yet he isn’t in it for the material benefits. The best pros want to leave a legacy rather than a big bank account. And for Lowry – for any serious player – that means winning a Major.

“The thing that drives me is winning. When I'm 60 and telling my grandkids about my career, I hope I'll have a couple of Majors in the bag. That's what I'm aiming for.

“I get jealous of other guys winning. I'm really desperate to win myself, but I think I'm at the stage now where I'm not putting that extra pressure on myself. It's just a few things like Wales last year, I should have won that tournament, the Dunhill the year before, Wentworth last year also.

“There's a few tournaments that I should have won but I just didn't finish the job off and a bit of luck here or there, the other person doesn't play quite as well down the back nine and suddenly I'm sitting here with four or five tournament wins under my belt and we're talking about: ‘Now's the time to go and win a Major’.”

That was May, just before the US Open, well in advance of McIlroy’s ankle injury, when all of a sudden he was no longer Ireland’s ‘other guy’ but the main one.

Rory McIlroy will miss The Open through injury (Photo: Getty Images). Rory McIlroy will miss The Open through injury (Photo: Getty Images).

So when his father, Brendan, came out and suggested he could carve his face into the Mount Rushmore of Irish golfing greats, Lowry snapped.

He said: “This talk about me winning Majors has to stop. I've finished ninth twice in two majors, I've only played in 10 majors and St Andrews will be my 11th.

“People are getting very carried away with all this talk about Majors,” he added. “I just saw an interview that my Dad did the other day and I didn't even know he did it, talking about me winning Majors. I wasn't too pleased about that to be honest.

“I'm still at an early stage in my Majors career but I'm not saying I can't go and win it. I definitely can go and win it. I just would prefer people to stop talking about it.”

Life doesn’t always work out that way, though. So long as he’s competitive, he’ll be mentioned in the same breath as the McIlroys and the Speiths, a new reality he has to get a grip of. Is he good enough to win at St Andrews? Neither he, nor we, can say for certain.

It’s only when he is standing there on the back nine of a championship Sunday that we really learn about the man rather than the golfer. He's ready to be tested.