They say a change is as good as a rest, and in Shane Lowry’s case, a switch to a right-hand-low orthodox putting grip has reaped the rewards a revitalising holiday can bring after the Open Champion came out firing on day one at The Players.
There’s been nothing wrong with Lowry’s tee-to-green game of late but with confidence restored in his flat-stick, the 33-year old was able to land six birdies in a four-under par opening 68 around a fiery TPC Sawgrass – his second best start at the year’s so-called fifth Major and just three shots back of Sergio Garcia’s seven-under par lead.
“I was happy,” Lowry said, rising above a final hole bogey where he found rare trouble right off the 18th tee. “I think things have not gone great over the last few weeks, so it’s nice to go out there and shoot a decent score. I didn’t do much different than I have been, holed a few putts that managed to go in.
“I watched a bit of the golf this morning and I could see how difficult it was playing, but that excites me. That kind of gets my juices flowing, and I like that type of golf. And look, I love this golf course. This is one of the best we play. I missed the cut at Bay Hill and arrived here on Sunday, and I came out and did a bit of practice and I couldn’t believe the condition it was in. It’s one of the best conditioned golf courses I’ve ever seen.”
Followers of Lowry over the past few weeks would’ve recognised a different animal on Thursday night’s televised coverage – not least because they were actually showing Shane! He had his ball on a string, sure, and played his golf from the fairway, but it was his assuredness over his putting that proved night and day to what’s come before.
He made four birdies to the turn to be out in 32, holing his fair share of putts, but also sinking a stunning chip from the side of the sixth green that really kick-started his round. Yet it was only the eagle-eyed viewers that spotted the true catalyst to this Lowry transformation, a subtle but highly significant change of putting grip that paid dividends on day one.
“I’ve been left hand low my whole life and I’ve gone right hand low this week,” Lowry explained. “I did it the final round at Concession and had the best putting round of my season so far. And I didn’t do it last week. I kind of went back to left hand low and trying to figure it out that way.
“I know I’m a good chipper and I know I’ve got good hands, so I kind of figured that if I can stand up and just putt like how I chip, and putt with a bit more feel and kind of react to the line as opposed to trying to get everything so perfect. But, look, I know more than anyone that today is one day. I’m not getting ahead of myself. I have to kind of relax and put today behind me and keep going tomorrow and try and shoot as good a score I can.”
Having enjoyed his best putting week at Concession after implementing this change of grip, Lowry was asked why he didn’t stick with it for what turned out to be a missed cut last week at Bay Hill.
“I was thinking maybe it was a plastering over, something that was kind of a quick fix more than anything,” he admitted. “I felt like if I went back to left hand low I would figure it out. But I really struggled last week and had a really bad putting week, so I came here, and it’s good to have my coach here, and we decided that we would change it. So it worked today. I just hope that it works for the next few days and the next few years!”
As much a mental change as it is physical, Lowry revealing that he has the positive reinforcement of his coach, Neil Manchip alongside him this week in Florida is another encouraging sign for a big week for the Offaly man at Sawgrass. Also noteworthy was a touch of good fortune with the draw, because although he reached the clubhouse in fading light on Thursday, his late tee-time also proved a gift from the golfing gods as Lowry learned a lot from the early TV coverage, not least of the wicked spell cast over the island green on the short 17th.
“I turned on the golf and I think a few guys in the first 10 shots I seen into 17 were one bounce and over the green. And I stood there on the 17th tee and it was a pitching wedge number, and I just said to my caddie, ‘I’m not hitting a pitching wedge. There’s no chance.’ So I just hit a gap wedge into the middle of the green and holed the putt, so that was nice.
“But, yeah, you do learn little things. You learn how difficult it’s playing, which kind of, for me mentally, kind of frees me up a little bit, so just go out there and grind it out. I know that I can grind out good scores.
“But I’m a big watcher of golf anyway. I watch it whenever I have weeks off. I watch it all the time, so it’s just a given that I do it and I probably do learn a little bit from it. On the weeks where guys are out there shooting 10-under on a Thursday before you tee off, it’s not very nice, but when you see guys struggling, you go, all right, well, if I shoot a couple under today, it’s a good score.”
For the record, 35 balls found the water off 17 on Thursday, the second highest single day total since 50 found the drink during the first round of the 2007 renewal. It only measures 143 yards!
Lowry gets his second round underway at 12.51pm (Irish time) this afternoon.
- Full scoring HERE