Lowry backs Rory's Olympic choice
Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Neil Manchip during The Open. Picture: Golffile

Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Neil Manchip during The Open. Picture: Golffile

Shane Lowry got “a lot of stick” for skipping Rio but he has total respect for the agonising Rory McIlroy has had to go through before committing to playing for Team Ireland at next year's Olympic Games in Japan.

The pair have become close again in recent years and while both will be going for gold in Tokyo and the chance to follow in the lucrative footsteps of Olympic champion Justin Rose, whose endorsement income since his Rio success has dwarfed his US Open earnings, Lowry sees it as a huge opportunity for Irish golf.

"I think it is great for golf and great for Team Ireland that he is playing," said Lowry, who is feeling good about his chances of putting in a big performance at Bethpage Black in this week's US PGA. 

"I hope I am his partner. I am a long way in the right direction, I have a good few points on the board."

Lowry and McIlroy are both members of the Bear's Club in Florida and played together with future Olympic team manager Neil Manchip just last Friday before hooking up for more practice in each other's company this week.

They were deep in conversation for most of the evening in the bar at Adare Manor 12 months ago when the revamped golf course re-opened with an exhibition match with Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley,

As a result, Lowry has heard first hand about McIlroy's difficulties in coming to a decision on the Olympic issue, just three years after both men pulled out of the Rio de Janeiro games citing their fears over the Zika virus.

"He has had it difficult over the last number of years with the whole thing, with trying to decide, and I don't envy him those choices," Lowry said as he played with Harrington in practice and was irked to lose $100 to the grinning Ryder Cup captain. 

"I have known for a while [he was going to play for Ireland], he has told me, and I have been around him a bit down in Florida. Neil is the team manager for the next Olympics, so he has been talking to Neil about it. 

"Look, it is great for the game and great for Team Ireland. I definitely didn't try to encourage him or to have a say. He is his own man and it is up to him. 

"But we seem to have built a nice relationship up over the last couple of years. If I am there we will have a good time. We played a lot growing up. He was a little bit before me but we kind of overlapped the last couple of years. 

"We won European Team Championships together [in 2007] and when you win those tournaments and you never forget. The amateur days were the best days of my life, playing for Ireland.

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry celebrate Ireland’s win in the 2007 European Amateur Team Championships

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry celebrate Ireland’s win in the 2007 European Amateur Team Championships

"I got a lot of stick about not playing the last Olympics, but playing for Ireland means a whole lot and I have played a couple of times in the World Cup and I hope to make the Olympics.

"The Olympics is a really big deal. Justin won gold and Henrik and Matt Kuchar were the three medal winners.

"We have a lot of huge tournaments to play in all year, the thing for golfers is it is another event obviously, a big event, but for most of the other athletes it is every four years. 

"We have a lot of other stuff to play for, it probably means a lot more to them but I am sure as the years go on and it becomes bigger for golf I think it will mean more.

"Golfers get a lot of enjoyment from just going there and being around the other athletes, that’s the feedback I got from the last one."

Neil Manchip, the CGI nominee for men’s golf Team Leader at the Tokyo Olympics said: “We are delighted that Rory has signalled his intention to compete  for Ireland at the Olympics in Tokyo next year.

“We've had several conversations over the last couple of months and I know he’s excited about playing. Having a multiple major winner as part of Team Ireland will undoubtedly be a boost to the entire team making the trip next year.”

Lowry might be well-placed in the Olympic Golf rankings but his goal this week is to put in a big performance and he admits that the 7,400-yards plus Black Course at Bethpage will be a beast.

"I think I can give it a run," he said. "I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think I could. I will go quietly about my business the first couple of days and hopefully get myself there or thereabouts.

"The top of world golf is as good as it has ever been."

Harrington, McGinley, McIlroy and Lowry at Adare

Harrington, McGinley, McIlroy and Lowry at Adare

Lowry played 29 holes in practice over the first two days before heading out again with McIlroy yesterday and knows that straight driving and stellar wedge play will be key.

"It's long, it requires good driving and it’s going to be difficult," he said. "We played it in the coldest we’re going to get all week, so it is going to warm up a little bit which will make it a little bit easier. 

"It will play a bit shorter but there’s still no run on the ball. But it is there in front of you, that’s the only thing. You need to hit good shots. There’s nothing tricky about it at all.

"All parts of your game need to be very sharp this week, especially driving the ball well. Your wedge play needs to be very good because if you do miss fairways then that’s where your wedge play is going to come in. 

"Miss a fairway and you will have to lay up on the par fours. But I think I have got both of those. 

"I will be fairly confident I will do okay. I know better than anyone golf’s a funny game and you don’t know what’s around the corner. I have prepared as best I can and I will see what it gives me. I will try my best."