Just as impressive as winning 18 majors is the fact that Jack Nicklaus finished runner-up 19 times in the events that matter most in golf. Who better, then, to offer the best bit of advice Shane Lowry has been given since he let a four-shot lead slip from his grasp in the final round as the Irishman ended up joint-second to Dustin Johnson in last month’s US Open at Oakmont?
“I was doing something on the Monday with Jack Nicklaus and he said, ‘listen, it’s your own mistake if you don’t learn from it’, and I thought that was a good way to put it,” said Lowry as he turned his attention to trying to benefit from getting an audience with the game’s greatest player before seeing if he can jump straight back on the horse in the season’s third major, the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon.
Unsurprisingly, Lowry’s mind has been occupied a fair bit by Oakmont over the past three weeks, having manoeuvred himself into a position to join Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and, of course, Rory McIlroy in Ireland’s major winners’ club over the past decade, only to be overtaken by Johnson on the last day.
“The week I had off after the US Open was tough as I reflected on what happened and I must have played that final round over in my head about 100 times,” admitted the affable County Offaly man, who helped Ireland win the European Men’s Team Championship at Western Gailes in Ayrshire in 2007 but is making his first visit to Royal Troon this week. “I also spoke to a few people, including Darren, Graeme and Padraig. I think Padraig was as gutted for me as I was for myself, but I can’t remember what he said to be honest.”
It was Clarke, the 2011 Open champion and Europe’s current Ryder Cup captain, who told Lowry that he should sit down in front of his TV and watch a rerun of the last round, painful though that was always going to be. “I had recorded a Sky highlights programme that I couldn’t watch on the Monday, but I sat down on either the Thursday or Friday. I just wanted to watch it and I was disappointed, as I had been on the Sunday before,” revealed Lowry, who has his trusty coach, Edinburgh man Neil Manchip, coming over from Ireland to help him prepare for his fifth crack at the Claret Jug. “But it was a great week. I was in a great position after playing such great golf, as good as I have ever played. I was also as good mentally as I have ever been. I know that if I can get myself in that position again – and hopefully that will be next Sunday – that I have the tools to do the business.”
Having followed up his long-awaited breakthrough win in the majors by succeeding Lowry as the WGC Bridgestone Invitational champion, Johnson will be heading to Ayrshire with high hopes of becoming the seventh successive American player to get his hands on the Claret Jug at Troon after Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Tom Watson (1982), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Justin Leonard (1997) and Todd Hamilton (2004).
However, Lowry is quietly confident – “fairly optimistic” to be exact – that he can get himself back in the major mix at the first time of asking and insists that the smile he wears almost permanently masks a steely determination that he intends to put to good effect in his bid to ensure that Oakmont isn’t the chapter he’ll be remembered for in the sport’s biggest events.
“Sometimes it doesn’t feel as though I’m the happy-go-lucky bloke people seem to think I am because I seem to be smiling a lot,” he said, chortling. “Listen, something like that is always going to hurt. But I think I have got over it well. Golf is a strange game because if I’d won the US Open, I’d still be in the same position heading into the Open. No matter what you do, you are still going out the next week trying to play well. Golf gives you nothing, really, in that respect. When you do have success, you just have to try and enjoy it because you can soon find yourself being brought down to earth with a bang.
“A lot of the talk after the US Open was about how Dustin had suffered big disappointments and bounced back. But then Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Danny Willett won it (a major) their first time being in contention. They didn’t have to lose one before they won one.
“But, yeah, I admire Dustin for the way he’s come back from disappointments in the majors. But listen, everyone knew that Dustin was going to win one at some stage. I think he could be the most talented golfer in the world, so I don’t begrudge him winning. Obviously I was a bit hurt by me not winning it, but fair enough that Dustin did.”
With Royal Troon having voted “overwhelmingly” nine days ago to open its doors to women members, it means the focus this week will be where it should be – a fantastic golf course that will be playing host to the likes of Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and world No.1 Jason Day for the first time. They’ll be battling it out on a course that is greener than the R&A would have ideally liked, but Mother Nature has been mischievous in the build-up to the event. Three months ago, water was being pumped off the course before it was crying out for a bit of rain only to get too much of that within the past fortnight or so. Nonetheless, it will prove a magnificent test, one where cards will be on fire going out as eight of the nine holes on the front nine – the Postage Stamp, of course, being the exception – are likely to be wind-assisted before players try to cling on over a stretch that is regarded by many, two-time champion Ernie Els included, as the best back nine in golf.
Let’s hope that is played in the final round next Sunday without the rules shambles that ensued at Oakmont, though we’d definitely take a repeat of players such as Johnson, Lowry, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia battling it out again as this event gets to its business end. And, if we can get Day, Spieth and McIlroy in there, too, even better.