Irishman Shane Lowry’s career rocketed into a different stratosphere last week with an emotional victory in The Open at Royal Portrush.
Although Lowry had been a talented amateur golfer, and indeed won the European Tour’s Irish Open before even reaching the paid ranks, it is fair to say that his maiden Major victory came somewhat out of the blue.
In this blog, I will delve into the details behind the Irishman’s game and look for evidence that will help us predict whether the epic Portrush triumph was an unexpected one-off or a springboard to catapult him among the worlds best in the biggest tournaments on a regular basis.
Long Game: Lowry employs a natural long flowing swing technique. For the purist, there would be holes to pick in leg action and swing plane. In many ways, his technique reminds you of Colin Montgomerie – old fashioned, natural and repeatable.
Growing up in the Emerald Isle, it is of little surprise that Lowry’s technique holds up well in difficult weather conditions and his control of trajectory in the wind was particularly evident in the wild conditions during the last day in Portrush. His sweet low fades into the treacherous Par 3 16th, ‘Calamity’ were ball-striking poetry.
Short Game: For his fellow Pro’s, it is Lowry’s chipping action that gains admiring glances. Fellow Irish Open Champion Padraig Harrington has described Lowry as the second best chipper of the ball that he has ever witnessed, behind only Phil Mickelson.
Lowry employs a similar rhythmical action in his chipping technique that is evident in his full swing. He chips almost exclusively with his lob wedge, but employs a variety of subtle changes in set-up and swing path to create high cut shots, or low hooked running approaches that check up to order.
Putting: The Irishmans natural, non-fussy approach continues in his putting, with a quick routine not allowing him to overthink his method. Lowry most commonly employs a left-hand low putting grip and looks comfortable with this technique. He very rarely changes putter, with the Odyssey 2-Ball in play for many years.
Driving: Averaging around 300 yards off the tee and 60% fairways hit, Lowry is no slouch with the Driver but neither is he exceptional, ranking around 60th on Tour in this department. With a positive strokes gained in this area, however, the technical deficiencies in his technique noted earlier clearly are compensated by the trust he has in his swing.
Approach shots: In a similar fashion to his Driving, the Irishman’s iron play is very good but does not stand him out from the crowd at the most elite level of the game. He hits around 65% of greens in regulation and his proximity to the hole stats are unremarkable. He has actually lost strokes to the field in this area during the 2019 season and it is improvements in other areas that have made the difference.
Short Game: For an area that is so admired, the stats do little to back-up Lowry’s reputation as a world class short game player.
His bunker stats are average, with a proximity to the hole of around 10ft ranking him in around 80th position on the PGA Tour. His scrambling figures are also not great. There appears to be a clear weakness in chipping from the rough, ranking 188th during the 2018 season. This could be explained by struggling to adjust to unfamiliar American conditions, and his scrambling from the rough has improved hugely from 47 to 65% so far in 2019.
It could be that, like Mickelson, Lowry’s short game wizardry looks flashy but sometimes the higher percentage shot could be beneficial and help his stats.
Putting: It is obvious from the stats that it is putting that has made a difference in Lowry’s 2019 season. During 2018, he averaged 30.4 putts per round with a strokes gained (lost) of -0.3 ranking him in 167th place. For 2019, the average has reduced to 29.3 putts per round with a positive strokes gained of 0.6.
At the most elite level, to improve by over a stroke per round in a single area of his game is a massive achievement and certainly the biggest single factor in his victories this year.
The new Open Champion has a very solid long game which particularly excels in difficult, windy conditions or when a course demands a creative range of ball flights and trajectories. Unfortunately this is increasingly rare in PGA Tour venues where the ‘bomb and gauge’ method favours the simple long hitting approach.
Despite his reputation as an elite short game player, the stats suggest that there are areas of weakness that he needs to address including bunker play and chipping from the rough. It is clear that the large greens with short grass run-offs and creative undulations at Portrush played to the Irishman’s strengths and contributed to his 6-shot victory.
In the 2019 season, Lowry’s putting has changed from a weakness to a strength and this will need to continue if he wants to win more Major Championships.
From my analysis, it is clear that Shane Lowry is a very very good golfer and a worthy Open Champion, but the stats suggest that he may struggle in US conditions, with long rough stifling creativity and the heat and lack of wind not playing to his strengths. With 3 of the 4 Major Championships held on this continent, he needs to continue to develop his game if he wants to improve his tally.
It would be wrong to underestimate the genial Irishman, however, with the confidence gained from his Open victory a significant boost to further wins. In fairness he has already shown an ability to adapt his game in 2019 and if this pattern continues it should be fun to watch.