His deft touch around the green and stinging long irons are a feature of the game that makes Shane Lowry such an exciting watch, but his coach understands on a deeper level what really makes him a world class operator.
It’s the fearless determination that Lowry first displayed on a national level as a 22-year-old at Baltray. He took down the rest of Europe’s elite as an amateur, making history in the Irish Open and showing composure beyond his years.
It was the defining moment of his early career and brings back fond memories for coach Neil Manchip. The Scot has witnessed the rise and rise, been there every step of the way and helped Lowry to claim Major glory too when he added the Open to his CV.
In addition to that memorable victory, the Clara native has won five other professional titles and having tied for third in last year’s Masters he has every chance of challenging again in Augusta this week.
But Manchip knows that Lowry’s mental strength is one of his main attributes as he looks to claim the coveted green jacket – and it all stems from that amazing week in the rain at Baltray where a young man stood strong to hold off the challenge of the experienced Robert Rock.
“Three amateurs have won professional European tour events so there was just literally zero chance that he would win, especially when you look at all the amateurs that play in professional events all over the world every week,” said Manchip.
“It really was an incredible fairytale achievement but one that showed not only how skilful he was on the course ball-striking wise and the whole game, but just the kind of fortitude he possessed to deal with everything.
“Dealing with a great first round, dealing with an incredible second round shooting -10. Then being in the lead and the rain delay on the Saturday and not playing until later and having the overnight lead there and dealing with that. Then having a chance to win it outright and beating Robert in a three-hole play-off.
“It really showed incredible wherewithal to pull through all of that and come out on top at the end of the day.”
Manchip, who is the High Performance Director at Golf Ireland, is from the Edinburgh suburb of Corstorphine.
He mostly played football growing up but was introduced to golf by an aunt and uncle, and joined the local Turnhouse Golf Club with friends from school in his early teens.
There Manchip first encountered golf professional Kevan Whitson who he followed to Royal County Down when he joined the PGA programme in 1992.
“I felt my golf was quite serious when I was a junior but looking at all the juniors that we would be dealing with and coaching as part of Golf Ireland I certainly wasn’t anywhere at that level. My lowest handicap was three, probably at 16 or 17 years old. I played for my region but never even close to being an international,” said Manchip.
“When I moved to Royal County Down with Kevan I really focused on golf and played a lot and started to play in the PGA Irish regional events. I started to be a lot more competitive then and moved on from that, but that’s really when it started.”
Manchip’s aim was to play on the European Tour and he had starts in Challenge Tour events, having some success in Ireland which in turn earned him some European Tour opportunities.
However, the highlight was his Smurfit Irish PGA Championship success in 1999 while he claimed the Club Professional Championship that year as well.
But Manchip would soon turn to coaching the next generation of Irish golfers and he had a great role model to learn from.
“Kevan is a great coach and he was my only coach from when I was growing up, I would have learned a lot from him,” said Manchip.
“When I was playing I was always interested in coaching as well. At the end of the 1998 season I had given up on a career as a tour professional. I wanted to move more into coaching so I moved to Royal Dublin then.
“At the time Leonard Owens wanted to get onto the Seniors Tour, he was the Club Pro there. I was the teaching pro at Royal Dublin from 1999 and yeah that was main kind of thing then, coaching there. That was great fun.”
It was January 2005 when Manchip first joined the Golfing Union of Ireland as national team coach. He has seen some great golfers come through the ranks since then, but the grassroots is still crucial.
“The main thing for me is just for golf for life,” said Manchip.
“There are very very few that can make it really good as a professional golfer. There are very few players that get to play for Ireland. As long as people are enjoying their golf, part of their club, and just playing at any level, is a great success for me.”
Lowry was invited to a boys trial for the Ireland U-18 team soon after Manchip’s arrival and straight away they struck up a friendship.
“I just remember the first thing we talked about was other sports, talking about Gaelic and then moved on to talking about his dad Brendan and him winning the All-Ireland in 1982,” said Manchip.
“We just hit it off right away talking about GAA and other stuff along with golf. It was clear he was a fantastic player at that stage and I think he placed second in that trial.”
Lowry soon began to eclipse all expectations – the plan for 2006 was to make the Leinster interprovincial team but he would go on to represent Ireland at the European Youth Championships, a team that included Rory McIlroy and Seamus Power.
The following year Lowry won an Irish Close before wins in the West and North, the trajectory of his career had pointed upwards but no one could have predicted the events of May 2009.
Ten years after that historic win, Lowry was an established name in world golf when Royal Portrush played host to the Open. He shot a course record 63 to put him in pole position entering the final day and again he held his head with the pressure of the whole of Ireland on his shoulders.
“The Irish Open was an incredible week which gave him an amazing platform, it was a really really big deal and a great springboard into the early stages of his tour career,” said Manchip.
“And there have been so many great players who have had great careers and maybe won once and done great things in European golf but to win a Major championship, to win the Open Championship at home in Ireland by six shots. I mean it really doesn’t get much better than that.
“To be able to enjoy it in the last couple of holes as well especially down the last knowing that you have got the six-shot lead and you can really soak it all in. Of course you are still focusing but you can enjoy it, you have won the tournament.
“It was very emotional to see the whole journey come through. I have always believed he was going to win Major championships but you don’t know you are going to win the Open at home in Portrush. It was amazing.”
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