Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 January 2020

Shane Lowry interview: Winning in Abu Dhabi played a massive part in British Open triumph

Irishman ended a 1,258-day title drought when he clinched the trophy at the National course last year before going on to win the Open in stunning style

For Shane Lowry, a win in Abu Dhabi paved the way for victory at the Open.

Prior to his UAE success, the Irishman had not won in more than three years. He had let slip a 54-hole lead at the 2016 US Open. He sat out the weekend at the 2018 Open, a fourth successive missed cut precipitating a fall to 92nd in the world rankings. Late in 2015, Lowry had climbed to 18th. Eventually, he lost his PGA Tour card.

But then he prevailed last January at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA. Lowry opened the tournament with a record-equalling 62, slept on another Saturday-night lead and let slip it on Sunday to playing partner Richard Sterne.

Having begun the final round three shots up, by the 11th Lowry was four back. However, he regained his composure, then displayed his considerable mettle to sink a birdie putt on the last for a one-shot win - and a first in 1,258 days.

Thankfully, the wait for another wasn't quite as lengthy. Six months later, Lowry emerged victorious at the Open at Royal Portrush, the championship’s return to Ireland after 68 years. Entering the week as a “home” hope, Lowry departed it a major champion.

Capturing the Claret Jug can be traced back to landing the Falcon Trophy.

“A massive role,” Lowry tells The National, as he prepares to defend his UAE title next week. “It'd been a tough few years before Abu Dhabi – I hadn’t won since 2015, so it was an important week to remind me that I have everything it takes to win a tournament.

“It certainly reinstalled the belief and confidence that I had what it takes to win against the world’s best players, which was pretty useful for Open week. Going through that sort of experience was invaluable, as was getting back in the winner’s circle. It undoubtedly helped me to go on to win the Open.”

Lowry’s victory in Northern Ireland was, in contrast, slightly more straightforward; at least come Sunday, at least in the dizzying confines of a major championship.

Holding a four-shot advantage going into the final round, Lowry held off the field and the elements to win by six. Cue a whirlwind of celebrations, both on the north coast and then back in Offaly, his hometown south of the border. No doubt, it made the off-season all the more sweet. The famed Claret Jug is a nice reminder, too.

“People love seeing it, holding it and taking photos - and it’s all good as I love showing it off,” Lowry says. “The best thing was waking up the very next day after winning and seeing the Claret Jug there, so I knew it wasn’t a dream.”

Yet having lived the dream, Lowry maintains he remains largely the same guy; major champion, granted, but still husband to Wendy and dad to two-year-old Iris.

“I don’t think it changed my life a whole lot as my family life is exactly the same as it was before,” he says. “That's the most important thing. And my little girl doesn’t care that I've won an Open.

“I don’t feel different, but it has given me a strong underlying confidence. I still want to improve and every time I go out on the golf course try be the best golfer I can be.”

Lowry hopes to prove that again this season. About to embark on his 2020 campaign, his chief target is another first: being part of the Ryder Cup.

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Shane Lowry's Open triumph in pictures

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That Padraig Harrington, a compatriot and good friend, will be Europe’s captain at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September only adds to his determination.

“Making Padraig’s team is definitely a huge ambition, 100 per cent,” Lowry says. “It has been since he was announced as captain and I'll be doing everything I can to qualify."

Despite being a potential debutant, contesting the cup in America doesn't faze him.

“I enjoy playing in the US and I love loud, enthusiastic crowds, so I think I would handle the away match pressure just fine," Lowry says. "I'd be so proud to be in the team and I would literally give it my absolute all in every aspect.”

Another strong showing in Abu Dhabi would obviously strengthen his chances, what with the Ryder Cup points on offer at the European Tour’s opening Rolex Series event of the season. The tournament purse stands at $7 million (Dh25.7m).

Lowry, a five-time winner on the tour, will arrive in the capital next week seeking to gatecrash a select group. Only two players have previously retained the title: Martin Kaymer in 2011 and Tommy Fleetwood in 2018.

“Martin and Tommy are both fantastic players who are highly respected on tour,” Lowry says. “To join them on the list would be a real honour.

“I’ve actually never successfully defended a professional title before so I’m not sure if I know the answer to what the secret is to retaining the trophy. I’ll try to arrive as well prepared as possible. Starting off with another 62 wouldn’t be a bad way to kick off my title defence.”

Undoubtedly, defending will bring with it additional demands, on his time primarily, and perhaps in relation to expectations. Lowry, though, isn’t worried. In fact, he aims to use it as a positive.

“It’s a great feeling to return to Abu Dhabi as the reigning champion,” he says. “Last year’s victory was huge for me and I’ll never forget the incredible support I enjoyed throughout.

“Personally, I don’t feel extra pressure, just the extra support as well as the happy memories from winning in 2019. I think I’m really going to enjoy being announced on the tee as both the defending champion and the Open Champion.”

Updated: January 5, 2020 04:19 PM

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