What might have become of Shane Lowry had Rory McIlroy not been as talented as he is? We'll let the Open champion take up the story

When you think of Shane Lowry’s amateur career you’ll be forgiven for going immediately to his Irish Open win in 2011. He does, of course, remain the last player to win a European Tour title as an amateur. 

While that win undoubtedly propelled Lowry into the limelight, ask the man himself and he’ll recall a moment earlier on in his budding career. 

Growing up in Clara, in the middle of Ireland, Lowry was not naturally exposed to a tight golfing community – “There were about 500 kids in my school and I was the only one who played golf” – and didn’t always have the resources to pursue his passion. 

Instead, Lowry chopped around a local pitch and putt when he could while spending his evenings staring wide-eyed at the game’s biggest stars on the TV. 

Then, in 1997, shortly after Lowry’s 11th birthday, things started to look up. 

“They built a golf course about five miles from my house,” he explains. “Esker Hills. That’s where I learnt to play golf. That was, around the Tiger Woods era, when people wanted to start playing golf.” Woods was, it won’t surprise you to hear, a huge influence on a young Lowry.

But it was another Irish up-and-comer who ended up giving Lowry his big break as an amateur.

“The first time I ever played for Ireland was in 2005,” Lowry says. “Rory McIlroy was obviously this superstar that everyone knew.” 

McIlroy, it’s worth noting, had quite the year in 2005. He was just coming off the back of winning the Junior Ryder Cup and became the youngest ever winner of two of Ireland’s most prestigious amateur championships – the West of Ireland and the Irish Close. That same year, he set a competitive course record of 61 around Royal Portrush’s Dunlace links, where, 14 years later, Lowry would go on to make his major breakthrough.

Lowry continues: “There were 14 boys on the Under-18s panel, which Rory was on, but he didn’t want to play. He wanted to play on the men’s team instead. 

“So he got taken off the Under-18s panel, which meant there was a spot available, and I got put on. 

“I went and played two trials, where I made the six-man European team. I went straight from not being involved to being on the team. So that helped.”

So who knows where Lowry might be now if he hadn’t got that break thanks to a persistent – and confident – McIlroy.

It certainly did Lowry no harm. After that Irish Open win he turned pro and has since added four more titles, including a WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and an Open, to his CV.

But it’s those days back in his homeland he looks back on the most. 

“My fondest memories are playing amateur golf for Ireland,” he reflects. “I was fortunate to be on a very good Irish team, especially when we got to the men’s game, which obviously included Rory. 

“We managed to win the European Team Championships two years in a row, and to do that with your close friends is unbelievable.”

Shane Lowry was talking on the Open Podcasts. Listen to the full episode below, on Apple Podcasts, or on the Open website.

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