Shane Lowry’s worrying decline over the last two seasons has culminated in him making a major decision to relocate to the USA for the first half of 2018. Lowry has experienced a sharp downturn in his form that has seen him fall from a career-high world ranking of 17th in October 2015 to as low as 89th in December 2017. This nosedive in ranking is directly correlated with Lowry’s decision to accept full PGA Tour membership for the 2015/16 season. From this time, Lowry attempted to juggle both the European Tour and the American Tour by playing an even-split of events on both circuits. But these efforts, involving frequent long-haul, transatlantic flights, hindered Lowry’s golf game. By balancing two Tours, he greatly reduced his chances of performing well on either money list. This is typified by the fact that Lowry has failed to make the FedEx Cup playoffs in both of his seasons on the PGA Tour. Meanwhile his Race to Dubai standing plummeted to a lowly 30th, position in 2017, considerably down on his 10th and 5th placings in 2014 and 2015 respectively, when he was more focused on playing European Tour events. To Lowry’s credit, he recognised at the end of last season that a change in approach was required for him to rediscover his best form, noting in an August interview that ‘’playing both tours has been very hard…/I feel like that has been my downfall.’’ However, Lowry is mistaken in his proposed solution. The Offalyman, in choosing to focus even more on the PGA Tour in 2018, will play even fewer European Tour events this season. This move will dramatically worsen his chances of making the Ryder Cup team and could well lead to a further decline in his world ranking.
As Lowry ponders a crossroads in his career, he would be well served in examining the blueprint laid down by his good friend and compatriot, Padraig Harrington. Harrington, himself a three-time major champion, made the switch from the European Tour to the more lucrative PGA Tour in 2005. At the point of switching, Harrington had already amassed eleven career victories and played in three Ryder Cups. He was an established star player looking to kick on to the next level. Lowry, in contrast, has a mere two professional victories to his name and has yet to play in a Ryder Cup. He is a player who must become more accustomed to contending regularly in tournaments and winning events before he can progress to the truly elite level of the game. Playing full-time on the European Tour absolutely represents Lowry’s best chance of doing this. For example, in 2017, Lowry had three top fifteen finishes out of the twelve events he played in America compared with six top fifteen placings out of twelve European tournaments. Furthermore, European courses are far better suited to Lowry’s game. They provide broader scope for creative, links-style shots and enable a natural golfer like Lowry to utilise his full array of skills. The same cannot be said for virtually all PGA Tour events, which lend themselves to ‘target golf’ and conclude with total winning scores bordering on obscene.
As touched on earlier, by moving to the United States, Lowry is considerably reducing his prospects of making the Ryder Cup team. The Ryder Cup qualification system consists of a ‘Race to Dubai Points List’ (based on points garnered from European Tour events) and a ‘World Points List’ (based on points attained from PGA Tour tournaments). By prioritising the US Tour, Lowry is channelling his selection efforts through the much more competitive ‘World Points List’, where he will have to fend off the challenge of the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia. Were Lowry to play full-time on the European Tour, however, he would face the far more manageable task of finishing above Matthew Fitzpatrick, Joost Luiten, Andy Sullivan and so forth. Essentially, Lowry’s relocation to America means that, barring a minor miracle, he will not make a Ryder Cup team that he otherwise would have an outstanding chance of qualifying for. Thus, he will miss out on all the benefits that playing in such a prestigious event would bring, not least accelerating his player development and massively raising his profile.
When playing in Europe, Lowry is treated as somewhat of a marquee player. He is predominantly given favourable tee times, high profile playing partners and significant television coverage. The Irish golfing public can enjoy watching his rounds and build up a connection with Clara native. But, when Lowry tees it up in America, he is given completely different treatment. Placed in groups with journeymen pros, viewers are lucky to catch one glimpse of the Irishman throughout the week as the cameras fixate on US icons like Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth. Such is Lowry’s anonymity, that some American commentators cannot even get his name right, referring to him on occasion as ‘Steve Lowry’ and ‘Shane McLowry’! This is further proof that Lowry, for the sake of his own marketability, should stay in Europe for another couple of years and build up his profile.
In conclusion, I would urge Lowry to at least delay his move to America until he has notched up more tournament victories or sampled at least one Ryder Cup. By departing prematurely, he risks following the ill-fated paths of Nicolas Colsaerts and Gonzalo Fernandez Castano, and turning his dip in form into an all-out slump. He is in the fortunate position of not having to follow the increased monetary rewards of the PGA Tour, having already accumulated €10,372,089 from the European circuit. The leap of faith he is taking in moving to the US appears a gamble that offers little benefits and could backfire spectacularly. For the sake of his career, some more patience and willingness to accept incremental progress is required, just as Harrington demonstrated all those years ago. I fear that in packing his bags for America, these qualities are absent from Lowry’s thought-process. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.
Jack Stokes – Sports Writer