Undoubtedly, Shane Lowry won’t encounter anything like the level of conspiracy theory, sniping from Olympic boxers or otherwise that was afforded to Rory McIlroy after the latter withdrew from all matters Rio last week.
Perhaps McIlroy, as a significantly more high-profile and handsomely rewarded Irish golfer simply has to deal with that. The rest of us can raise a smile over issues of perception.
Lowry, like McIlroy, is perfectly entitled to remove his name from the Olympic golf reckoning. Like McIlroy, we should respect his reasons for doing so. This week, there is another reason to both afford Lowry backing and a touch of professional sympathy.
Keith Pelley’s whirlwind entry into the chief executive post at the European Tour has seen plenty noise, plenty promise, but thus far minimal delivery. That isn’t a criticism; Pelley is still too freshly immersed in the post to be properly assessed, just as the tour’s sponsorship and commercial wings were never going to evolve overnight. Pelley has talked the talk, with the jury out on what happens next.
An example of Pelley’s bullishness – and this has been consistent – regarded a challenge to the PGA Tour but directly impacted on Lowry. The European Tour withdrew sanction of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational of 2016, which starts on Thursday in Akron, on the basis it conflicts directly with the 100th anniversary of the French Open.
Those appearing at the Bridgestone won’t be afforded Race to Dubai ranking points or, more pertinently, those for the Ryder Cup. France has all manner of enhancements, which was duly sufficient to draw a stellar field including McIlroy and the Masters champion, Danny Willett. Neither may have played at Castle Stuart anyway, but there is no question the entry list at next week’s Scottish Open has been negatively affected, in part, by this French push.
This also all left Lowry, through not fault whatsoever of his own, in something of a schedule predicament. His Bridgestone win of 2015 was a tremendous one, announcing a man once mocked to the point where he was deliberately drawn alongside two similarly broad individuals at a US Open on to a global stage. In Ireland, the celebration of Lowry’s success was so brilliant it reminded us that few other nations embrace their sportspeople so warmly.
Lowry has never lacked talent – the annoyance he commonly displays towards himself on the course demonstrates a desire that is maybe masked by an outwardly happy-go-lucky attitude – but the claiming of a WGC suddenly afforded him a loftier status. The immensely likeable 29-year-old’s own approach even seems to have become more focussed over the past 10 months, perhaps through a realisation that he can scale more epic heights than even he had acknowledged.
Lowry, as defending champion, rightly opted to return to Akron this week. Common courtesy met basic logic there. But this represented a serious risk, for a player with dreams of a maiden Ryder Cup appearance in September who is flirting around the edges of qualification and, being blunt, has not fully built upon last year’s triumph.
While the European Tour was happy to bask in Lowry’s glory of 2015 when partly sanctioning the Bridgestone, there has been no statement to make it perfectly plain that the man from Offaly goes back to the same venue with best wishes under unique circumstances. If tokenism, that would at least have represented a human touch. Darren Clarke, surely, should look favourably upon a competitor placed into a dilemma on the simple basis he was successful. Hopefully Clarke does, if indeed Lowry ends up on the Ryder Cup fringes.
Lowry is perhaps due a break. His role in the chaotic closing Sunday of the recent US Open was ultimately overlooked but it can surely be said with certainty that he, like Dustin Johnson and others, was negatively affected by the rules farce which ensued on the closing stretch. Lowry held a four-shot lead with 18 holes to play, the level with which that concession hurt him obvious even upon first glance as Johnson was lifting the trophy. The Irishman had played beautifully for three and a half days, raising widespread hopes of victory for a man who plays golf with a wonderful simplicity. Lowry may not be an ideal athlete – that in itself draws smiles from golfing traditionalists – but his swing and pace of play are due the utmost respect.
Johnson was to upstage Lowry at Oakmont. Despite the European Tour’s wishes for the French Open to do likewise this week, there is cause to root for Lowry on the other side of the Atlantic.
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