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Tommy Martin: Lowry Europe's spiritual leader as golf gets emotional

Only Thursday at the Ryder Cup and already not a dry eye in the house.

Last time most people thought about the Ryder Cup was when Rory blubbered his way through a post-round interview in the aftermath of Europe’s shellacking at Whistling Straits two years ago.

Now it heaves its way back into view and the waterworks are back on. While Rory has remained firmly buttoned up so far, his role as Leader of the Free Golf World necessitating a certain sangfroid, it is Shane Lowry who has had a bawl before he has even struck a ball.

Lowry informed the world this week that a motivational video put together by captain Luke Donald had set him off already.

“Look, it's an emotional week,” Lowry told the press, “And even some of the stuff that's happened already this week would get you quite emotional,” Lowry said. “I think being a part of something that is bigger than you or anything else is pretty cool…there's videos that are played in the team rooms in the evenings, motivational videos, and just hits home a little bit.” 

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These motivational videos usually feature grainy images of past heroes set to swelling strings, the better to remind the current lot of the gravity of their undertaking. Everyone knows that mixing Ian Woosnam in his pomp with a bit of Hanz Zimmer is a surefire tearjerker.

Lowry aside, it is worth noting that the Ryder Cup is the week that golf lets it all hang out, feelings wise. In normal times, golfers and those lining the course to watch them are expected to suppress the torrents of emotion that may swirl within.

A tip of a cap in appreciation, a measured fist pump – these are the limits to which passions may stir in the game of golf, give or take the odd Bubba Watson here or there. For those in the galleries, a polite ripple of applause and an occasional whoop are preferred for moments when other sports reach for fireworks and Freed From Desire.

And as with triumph, so too disaster. Think of final day collapses in major tournaments, when everything a player has strived for falls apart. In any other sphere of human endeavour, a person would collapse in a heap, cursing whatever deity was tormenting them so. But as the camera zooms in on the stricken golfer, his ball having just plopped into a pond, his face must not exceed the level of disappointment of a supermarket shopper discovering they don’t have any of the nice yoghurts.

All that changes on Ryder Cup week, which is a sort of biennial safety valve for repressed golfers, without which they would surely commit a lot more mass murders. Things that are normally verboten – great macho roars of exaltation, terracing-style chants of derision and, yes, frequent outbreaks of blubbering – are positively encouraged. This battle between continents is marked by its emotional incontinence.

Lowry’s role in all of this is key. A controversial captain’s pick by Luke Donald, some felt his inclusion was hard on Adrian Meronk of Poland, who had finished fifth on the European Points list and won the Italian Open back in May on the self-same Marco Simone Golf & Country Club at which we find ourselves this week.

Lowry, on the other hand, hadn’t done much this year until pitching up at the K Club earlier this month with a tied-3rd finish in the Irish Open, by which time the Ryder Cup team had already been picked.

But the fact that Lowry got the shout ahead of a man who had played measurably better than him in 2023 tells you that this is golf, but not as we know it. It has long been understood that Lowry has the right stuff when it comes to the Ryder Cup, with frequent allusions to ‘his background in team sports’ hinting at the blood and thunder of Offaly GAA that stirs within.

Gregarious and passionate, a purveyor of positive locker room vibes, Lowry the golfer is also known as a sort of emotional dragon-rider, at his best when harnessing the surges of adrenalin which can overcome a lesser man on the biggest days. Of his six career wins, four of them could be said to be in prestige tournaments: a major, a WGC, a flagship Tour event and his national open when a cherubic 22-year-old amateur.

Such considerations helped earn him a captain’s pick in 2021 as well, when he provided one of the few moments of European relief. Holing the putt on the last to win his Saturday afternoon fourball with Tyrell Hatton against Tony Finau and Harris English, Lowry flexed and pumped and roared and flung his putter away in exaltation before grabbing Hatton in a great meaty bear hug. There was no way Donald was going into a home Ryder Cup without THAT.

Especially so as Europe head into this Ryder Cup without their emotional lodestar, the high priest of hullaballoo, the big eejit himself: the one they call Poults.

You have to go back to 2006 to find a European team winning a Ryder Cup without Ian Poulter whooping and hollering his way through the weekend. Poulter was a captain’s pick in 2012, having finished 17th on the European points list, when he inspired the comeback subsequently dubbed the Miracle at Medinah, proof positive that bang average form is a minor inconvenience at Ryder Cups. When summoned one last time to work his magic in 2021, he resembled a grizzled, fading Jedi, beating Finau in the singles when the match was already over then vanishing, to all intents and purposes, into thin air.

While the likes of McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland will be expected to do the heavy lifting points-wise, in the absence of Poulter and other LIV-ensconced veterans like Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, Lowry will be tasked with providing the spiritual heft for Team Europe, educating the newbies and the Italian galleries as to WHAT THIS MEANS. Acting, essentially, as a sort of turbo-Poults for the weekend.

Safe to say, it could get emotional.