European idol

ASH, England – There is only one real story in this week’s European Open. How will Ireland’s Shane Lowry do in his professional debut?

Lowry said “madness” was the only way to describe the last 10 days since winning the Irish Open as an amateur. He’s had phone calls of congratulations from the Irish President and from Padraig Harrington.

The 22-year-old went from the relative obscurity in the amateur game to the bright lights of professional golf when he turned pro after becoming the first amateur to win the Irish Open, and only the third amateur winner in European Tour history.

Lowry followed Pablo Martin and Danny Lee into the history books. Martin won the 2007 Portuguese Open to become the first amateur winner on the European Tour, while Lee’s Johnnie Walker Classic victory earlier this year made him the second.

The difference between Lowry and the other two is that the Irishman won on his first professional start.

If Lowry is suffering any lasting ramifications from the mania of the last 10 days, then his professional debut should help.

“It’s been madness over the last couple of weeks,” Lowry said. “I’m just starting to calm down now. I can’t wait to get out on the golf course to be honest. It’s a lot more peaceful out there.”

The big question this week is how will he fare? Although his Irish Open win fits the definition of “shock victory” perfectly, it proved he has the game to perform against Europe’s top professionals. Whether that game will be here this week remains to be seen. Lowry hasn’t spent much time on the golf course in all the hoopla of winning.

“I haven’t,” Lowry, said when asked ho much time he’d spent on his game since taking the golf world by storm. “I played here yesterday, a practice round, and before that I played 12 holes between the Irish Open and yesterday.”

The world might have high expectations about the newest addition to the professional ranks, but Lowry’s aims are a bit lower. His target this week is not measured in terms of where he finishes come Sunday. His yardstick is slightly more esoteric.

“Just go out and enjoy it,” he said when asked his immediate goal.

“I’m looking forward to just getting out there tomorrow. Hopefully it will go well. When I’m out there tomorrow, it’s the start of hopefully what will be a long career, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Lowry’s practice round at The London Club was spent in the company of fellow Irishman Peter Lawrie. If anyone was looking to those 18 holes for an indication of how he will play this week, then they will be sadly mistaken.

“I played all right,” Lowry said. “I’m not too worried about how I play in practice rounds, to be honest. I never really play outstanding or bad. I just hit tee shots, and if you hit it in the rough, you throw it back on the fairway.”

Lowry’s win came on a traditional links course. County Louth is a quintessential seaside course and, as it proved, the Irishman felt at home there. That was no surprise, even if the victory was. The majority of golf played at elite amateur level in the British Isles is of the links variety.

The London Club is as untraditional as you will find anywhere in the British Isles. This Jack Nicklaus course is a little piece of America in the county of Kent, otherwise known as the Garden of England. So it did come as a surprise when Lowry said felt at home here.

“Yes,” he said, when asked if the venue suited him. “I’d like to think I’m a decent driver of the golf ball. I’m straight enough.”

Lowry might be in professional mode and has experienced much of the trappings that go with being a European Tour professional, such as taking a courtesy car to the course. But he’s not let his newfound celebrity status go completely to his head. He was offered the chance of traveling to this tournament in a private jet, but turned it down.

“What would it have looked like if I had arrived at my first European Tour event in a private jet?” he said.

Lowry obviously isn’t the only attraction here this week. Sergio Garcia is making his first appearance on European soil this season. John Daly, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel are flying the flag for the USA, while Ross Fisher is a good bet to retain the title he won last year.

The main focus, though, will be on how Lowry handles his professional debut. It comes down to this: Was the Irish Open just a flash in the pan, or does he have the right stuff to make it as a professional?

The next four days should give us a clear indication.

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