Comparisons are odious and while Shane Lowry believes that living in the shadow of major winners like Pádraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell or Darren Clarke is no bad thing, he's slowly finding out what makes him tick as he bids to fulfill his potential and join them in the game's elite.
No-one knows better than Lowry how difficult it is to make it to the very top in the most frustrating and difficult games of all. And while he's targeting a place in the world's Top 50 by year's end and a first Masters appearance this time next year, he points to the short memories of those who lament the fall from grace of Harrington to illustrate just how difficult it is to succeed in the modern game.
Now 26 and with 129 professional appearances behind him — the first of them that historic 2009 Irish Open win as an amateur — the Clara man's career still bears comparision with that of 42-year old legend Harrington.
They are now close to each other in the world rankings with Harrington down to 155th and Lowry 114th having reached a career high of 54th just over a year ago.
A quick look at their progression shows that in his first 129 events as a professional, Harrington had two wins, 32 Top 10s and 10 major championship appearances under his belt.
Lowry's figures are not dissimilar—two wins, 18 Top 10s and five majors championship appearances. And while Harrington broke into the Top 50 in the world after 111 events, it was not until he won his third professional event in Brasil in early 2000 that he fully established himself as one of Europe's top players.
Had it not been a nasty dose of shingles that stopped him in his tracks in Dubai at the end of 2012, Lowry may well have made the Top 50 by Christmas that year and saved himself the stress of a weekly Top 50 obsession that marred most of the early part of last season.
Short term goal setting simply piled on the pressure as he combined the best of Europe's early season schedule with a raft of appearances on the PGA Tour circuit.
As a result, he simply didn't perform to the best of his ability. Flitting between the medium-paced greens of Europe one week to the lightning fast greens of the US the next, was never going to an easy adjustment. He made six transatlantic trips between February and June and while he beat McIlroy in the first round of the Accenture Match Play in Tucson and came 15th in the Valero Texas Open a month later, missed cuts in Puerto Rico, Houston, New Orleans and at The Memorial in Ohio did little for his confidence.
As he prepared to head out to Spain next week for the new, dual ranking NH Collection Open at La Reserva de Sotogrande, Lowry sat down at GUI headquarters during the announcement of AIG's sponsorship of the ILGU and GUI and outlined his feelings about his career so far and the difficulty of goal-setting in the modern game.
Q Nice beard? How long is it going to last?
I don't know. It's going since November. I've trimmed it twice but I think I might just go for it now until it gets out of hand.
I suppose I am. I don't think I would walk under a ladder or anything like that, so I suppose I am.
Q What have you been doing since (you finished 56th in the Trophee Hassan II in) Morocco?
I have just been at home, I spent a week at home, doing some training and as much practice as I can in this weather. Trying to get as ready as I can. I am playing next week in Spain, it is a co-sanctioned event between the Challenge Tour and the European Tour. It is not very big but it is something to play in and I am treating it as a good week's practice. I am bringing my coach with me. After that I go to Malaysia, China and back then for the main part of the European season. From next week onwards it is all go.
Q What are your short terms goals? Set any?
Not really. I have not set any goals in regards to winning any particular events. I set short-term goals that will help me in the process of achieving my long-term goals. One of my long-term goals is to be playing in the Masters this time next year. So I am going to do everything I can in the next six-nine months to do that. It is top 50 in the world by Christmas, which is a decent goal of mine. I am trying to focus on the process of doing everything I can to get there.”
Q Do you feel you need to relax more?
“It is not about focusing week on week, which is what I was doing last year. I was going in to every tournament trying to finish in such and such a position to try to get to here and here. I was going out and putting myself under a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I was in bad form all the time because of it, I was uptight all the time, I was anxious all the time about playing well. I sat down and wrote things down for myself. When you write things down it makes you see them a little bit better and a bit clearer.”
Q You mentioned in your new column in The Irish Times that you were snapping at people. What made you snap?
“There was an incident with Mum last year. If I gave my girlfriend a call after a round and I was in bad form it was because of my golf. I hate being like that, I hate being like that. It was something I needed. I needed an extra little bit of focus when I'm at home. If I sit down and plan my time a little bit better. Set some long-term goals and short-term goals and try and achieve the long-term ones. Most of them are totally nothing to do with golf.”
Q Are you getting more focused now?
“I think so. I’m getting older and more mature, obviously, and I realise not that I haven’t worked hard or done anything the last few years but I don’t think I’m even close to fulfilling my potential. If I can get that little extra bit out of everything I think I can achieve a lot in this game. It’s quite exciting to be sitting in the position I’m in with loads of room for improvement."
Q You won the first professional event you played in (the Irish Open), all of a sudden you had a card, then you won again and came close to top 50 in world. Was there any temptation there to cruise?
“Maybe it was. I don’t know if it was. It is hard. People don’t realise how hard it is to win. Even Irish people don’t realise how good Pádraig Harrington is. I think Pádraig was every bit as good as Brian O’Driscoll is and people don’t see that. It is hard to win on tour and it is especially hard to do well at major events. The standard is so good, everyone works so hard and puts so much into their game. You just have to do everything you can to give yourself the best chance of winning.”
Q This is a golden era for Irish golf with Rory, Darren, Pádraig and Graeme all winning majors since 2007. Expectations are higher now but can a rising tide lift all ships too?
“Maybe that. Hanging around with the likes of Rory and Graeme and Padraig and Darren and whoever, you see what they do. I knock around with Graeme quite a lot and see how he goes about his business. What he has achieved in the game is phenomenal as well. He does everything he can. He’s, what, 33 or something like that. I’m not saying I’m going to wait until I’m 33 to be doing what he is doing. I’m young and I have plenty of time. I’m just trying to keep doing what I’m doing. I really feel like I have a good system in place and I have a good team around me that will get me to where I want to be.”
Q You look at the Florida Swing this year and we had four unheralded players few people had heard of winning. Does that show again how tough it is to win?
“No matter what tournament you play there are between a hundred and 120 guys playing and I genuinely believe anyone can win. If someone brings their A-game they can win. Now, if Rory or Tiger or the top players bring their A-game then they are going to be hard to beat.”
Q How does the standard on the European Tour compare to that on the US PGA Tour?
“Talent wise I don’t think there’s much in it. The problem we have in Europe is that any of the talented players go over to America. There’s no question that the tournaments over in America at this time of the year are bigger than the tournaments in Europe. So those are the tournaments the younger lads want to play in. I’m not going to lie: if I had the chance to be playing in them I’d be over there right now. That’s where I want to be this time next year but the European tour is still in a great place. It still has great tournaments and after next week from Malaysia onwards there are some massive tournaments. It’s still a great tour albeit not the PGA Tour.”
Q You toyed with the US Tour last year, how do you feel that worked out?
“I did and I didn’t play well over there, which is the reason why I said afterwards that I didn’t really like it over there but if you did play well over there you would like it. The one tournament I did play well in was the Texas Open and that’s on this week. I finished about 15th on that last year and really enjoyed it. I wanted to go back there this year but couldn’t. I’d like to go over there again and try my hand at it. I’d never, ever give up my card in Europe but I would like to give America a go again.”
Q Was what happened in the States last year a knock to your confidence?
"Yeah, it was. Any time I played in Europe last year I was competing. I felt I was competing and then I'd go over to the States and shoot two 75s or two 77s and it did knock my confidence a lot. I feel like if I had stayed in Europe and concentrated on that I would have had a better season than I did. But, then again, I don't regret going to America at all because I learned a lot and I will be back there at some stage. I know some of the courses and some of the people over there. But, yeah, it did knock my confidence. I found the greens the most difficult part of the whole thing. I struggled on the quick greens. Living in Ireland, you don't get to practice on quick greens. I went from playing in the US Open qualifier in Walton Heath to going to the Memorial last year and playing on some of the quickest greens around. There's five feet in the difference in pace in the greens and it's not doable, really. Really I shouldn't have played there. I played Wentworth the week before, I probably should have looked at it better and maybe gave the US Open a miss and tried to back myself to do well at Memorial.”
Q Later in the year at USPGA though you did very well. Did you have a point to prove?
"Yeah, when I got to Firestone and the PGA I played lovely those two weeks, but I mean it's just my form, I suppose, was a bit inconsistent. It was a bit up and down. I was one off the lead with five or six to play at Wentworth last year and all of a sudden I'm finishing 140th the following week at Memorial. It didn't really add up and then when I came back to Europe, I finished 10th in Germany and then fifth in the Irish Open. So it was just kind of up and down. I think I was just more used to the surroundings in Europe. It did take a while to get used to America. I'd love to have my card there, just to have a few months to settle in and see how I do, I think I'd do alright. But it remains to be seen, I suppose.”
Q You are targeting the Top 50 in the world this year. You are going to have to win this year, and win big.
"Yeah, I'm going to have to win a big one - or two or three, you never know, win as many as I can!
Q Why isn't Padraig Harrington appreciated?
"I think it's because...I don't know.
Q Do people have short memories?
"Yeah, short memories. Definitely short memories. I mean, winning three Majors. How many players have won more than three Majors? Not many. Seven or eight? I just don't think people understand or realise how hard it is to win a Major.”
Q Should Augusta send him an invite?
"I don't think they're going to do that, are they? They can invite anyone they want though, can't they?
Q Did you understand how difficult it was to win a tournament when you won an Irish Open?
"No. Definitely not. I do understand now. I remember playing the final round of the Dunhill last year, one ahead with seven or eight to play, and I remember the nerves I was feeling. And I remember the nerves I was feeling in Portugal and I thought to myself afterwards, 'I can't remember feeling those back in Baltray'. If you could bottle that feeling from Baltray, you'd sell it.