Shane Lowry is playing just his seventh tournament as a paid professional in this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. But he’s already in seventh heaven.
As he set off for his final practice round with Graeme McDowell on the manicured fairways of Firestone Country Club’s tree-lined South Course yesterday, he looked like happiness personified.
“How could you not enjoy this,” he said after birdies at the first two holes with his new caddie, Dermot Byrne, in tow.
The 22-year old from Clara in County Offaly has been living the dream for three months now and while his first steps in the big, bad world of professional golf have been somewhat stumbling, he believes he’s rapidly coming to terms to difficulty of the courses and the weekly routine.
Life has certain changed utterly for the youngster over the past year. Twelve months ago he was basking in the glory of his win in the Mullingar Scratch Trophy, where he won a gift voucher for €500. Today he's rubbing shoulders with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia.
“It’s great to be playing in fields like this,” he said of his pairing with Justin Rose and Marc Turnesa for the first two rounds. “I was just dreaming of this about six months ago. If someone had said I’d been here this year down in Mullingar, I would probably have laughed but I am here now and really enjoying the occasion.”
Forced to forego a €500,000 pay day for winning the Irish Open as an amateur, Lowry has a chance to win $1.4 million this week and will still bank around $35,000 if he finishes last in the 80-man field. But he's more ambitious that that.
“There’s no cut, so it’s free golf for four days,” said Lowry, who has been enjoying the red carpet treatment in Akron from the courtesy car to the bespoke treatment from his equipment sponsors Titleist.
“No, I’ve nothing to prove to anyone,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys on the European Tour haven’t won anything yet so I don’t think I’ve to prove anything to anybody.”
He insists that his decision to relieve his old Clara pal Dave “Shaper” Reynolds of the caddying duties and take on Byrne for last week’s Moravia Silesia Open in the Czech Republic was his decision alone and nothing to do with his management company.
“It was my call,” he explained. “I knew I needed someone else, someone with more experience and Dermot became available. The information I am getting on the course is a lot better. I feel that I can commit to my shots a lot more because I am getting more information than I was getting before in terms of yardages and wind and the slopes on greens.”
Adjusting to life on tour has been even tougher than making birdies and pars and while Lowry is travelling with his girlfriend this week, he will be alone again when she returns to her job as a primary school teacher next month.
“Probably the most difficult thing is not having the people around me,” he said of his transition from the amateur ranks. “When I was travelling before I’d all the lads I was really friendly with, I suppose. There is a lot more alone time, but it’s grand.
“In terms of the golf, as Dermot keeps saying, my good is more than good enough. It’s just how good your bad ones are.
“Was it tough at the start? Not really. It’s just the courses were harder and the pin positions were tougher and everything about it was just more difficult than what I’m used to. You have to play more sensible out here as well.
“When I was playing amateur golf, if you made a bogey it was ‘ah well’. Out here it’s a lot tougher. You’ve just got to play sensibly, hit the middle of greens and hole a few putts. That’s the biggest part of it here. Not making the mistakes.
“I’ve come out here today feeling that I am hitting the ball really well. If I can get my short game going and I start rolling the putts this week, it would be nice.”