US PGA 2015: Shane Lowry joins select band of modern Irish greats

Firestone triumph has 28-year-old dreaming of winning his first major in Wisconsin

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The Independent Online

Few flowers prosper at this time of year in the United States like the shamrock. For Rory McIlroy 12 months ago read Shane Lowry, a contemporary of the world No 1 on the Irish amateur scene a decade ago, now following him into the winner’s enclosure at an elite golfing event.

We know what happened after McIlroy triumphed at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in the first week of last August. Surely it is beyond the dancing feet of Lowry to make it back-to-back wins at the US PGA Championship in Wisconsin this week as McIlroy did so spectacularly in 2014?

The green staff will be holding their breath lest Lowry pulls the same shapes at Whistling Straights as he did on Sunday after his two-shot victory at Firestone. Lowry is a big lad and gave it the full monty when his putt dropped at the last for a 66 to see off the trio of major winners in pursuit, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose and Jim Furyk.

“It was special to go out and do that and such a good feeling to shoot a bogey-free 66 on the golf course like that. I know it will stay with me now for the rest of my career,” he said. Lowry rode his luck at times, with favourable bounces at the 10th and 18th off a tree which he would later go back and thank with a bear hug, but some would say he earned his breaks with a bold approach.

Lowry has been on the Irish radar since winning the Irish Open as an amateur in 2007, a result that persuaded him to turn pro rather than contest the Walker Cup later that year alongside McIlroy. He waited five years for his first win as a pro in Portugal, an outcome that triggered the step change that has made him a WGC winner and a top-20 player heading into the final major of the season.

“It was great for me [winning the Irish Open], but this is getting the next stage of my career kick-started. I feel like I’ve been playing good golf for the last couple of years. I’ve been in and around the top 50 in the world. Hopefully, the floodgates will open now.”

It was quite a week in the Lowry household, his younger brother Alan winning the prestigious Irish amateur tournament, the Mullingar Scratch Cup, the filter through which the greats of Irish golf pass, including McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.

The link with McIlroy is an obvious one to make, though at 28, Shane Lowry is two years older and they did not share the same trajectory. Few do. “He’s two years younger than me, but he played men’s golf when he was 14, 15, and I was still playing boys’ golf and under-18s. He developed a lot quicker than I did. We were kind of around the same scene for maybe two years. We played on a couple of teams together, and we won a couple of tournaments on teams.

“I’ve knocked around with him for the last few years. When you’re hanging around with people like that, like I hang around with Padraig, Rory, G-Mac [Graeme McDowell], guys who have done well in the game and who have won majors, it definitely helps you.”

McDowell, who closed 10 shots back on one under par at Firestone, waited and was among the first to congratulate Lowry on his victory as well as his celebration. “I’ve known he was a very talented young man for several years now,” said McDowell, who tied for 17th.

“This golf course personified what he’s good at. He’s an extremely good driver of the ball. Very long, very straight. And his short game is one of his outstanding qualities. He’s one of the best chippers I know. He’s always been kind of one of those guys, when he has an opportunity, he never fades away. He’s got some guts and determination. He won the Irish Open as an amateur and has always struck me as a guy who could perform at the highest level. And this is going to be a career-changing moment.”

Lowry enjoyed a match play victory over McIlroy in Tucson two years ago but lost out at Wentworth last year when McIlroy galloped past him on the final day to begin the most remarkable period of plunder in his young career.

McIlroy’s return from injury this week is one of the big themes in golf as the major season comes to a close. The idea that it might feature an Irish climax was fanciful a fortnight ago. It remains so but for different reasons. This week at least Lowry is the shamrock with the established roots.

“I’d love to go down the stretch again [with McIlroy]. You want to test yourself against the best players in the world. So if I find myself with nine holes to play in a battle with Rory, I’ll be very, very happy.”