Shane Lowry breezed onto the range at Pebble Beach with the air of a man totally at ease with the world.
He was California cool personified after his runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy in Canada on Sunday, the famous Lowry beard glittering in the early morning sun.
But underneath it all, he has the same fears and foibles as many of us and motivated by different feelings than those that fuel Brooks Koepka’s desire to prove his (dwindling) doubters wrong and win a third US Open in a row, he admitted that it’s that dread of letting the side down that motivates him as much as his own ambition.
“What drives me on is the fear of failure,” Lowry confessed. “Not just for myself but that fear of not living up to the expectations of others. I don’t like to let people down, and I know you are not, but you feel like that when you are not doing well.”
The good news is that Lowry knows that if he plays as well as he has been recently, he could go one better than his second-place finish behind Dustin Johnson at Oakmont three years ago.
But for now his game-plan is to keep his head down, play intelligently and hope that his putter remains hot.
“I am under the radar on a week like this,” he said with a grin. “With Brooks and Rory and Tiger and Justin and Jordan, you come into a week like this under the radar and just hope you can creep up there on Saturday evening and contend on Sunday.
“I am obviously very happy about last week. I felt very confident going out on Sunday but little did I know that Rory was going to do what he did.
“I played good enough to win but as I always say, golf is a funny game and sometimes somebody else just plays better and you have no control over that.”
Lowry puts his new-found, free-flowing form down to easing off on himself when it comes to expectations, revealing that the turning point in his season came on the back nine in the second round of the Masters, when he was destined to miss the cut and played his best golf.
“That might be where it all turned,” he said. “I was out of the tournament and I played that back nine free, like I didn’t care.
“That could be part it. But this game is so fickle. Someone was asking me at Baltray a few weeks ago about how bad Rory’s form was and I just looked at him. Rory’s now won twice and had so many top 10s but he’s expected to win all the time, even in a week like this.”
While McIlroy and Lowry are in the spotlight constantly, especially at home, the man trying to win his fifth Major in nine starts and become the first player to win three consecutive US Opens for 114 years, was dreaming up a new way to fire himself up.
Koepka admits he plays his best when he’s got a chip on his shoulder and the bad news for the other 155 players gathered on the Monterey Peninsula this week is that he’s found another reason to be annoyed.
The culprit this week is not Golf Channel talking head Brandel Chamblee but Fox Sports, who apparently left him out of a promotional ad for the US Open.
“There’s a couple of things where it’s just mind-boggling,” Koepka said. “It’s like, really? Like, how do you forget that?
“I actually didn’t see it for a long time. A bunch of people on Twitter I think tagged me in it, in the promo. And I guess they were amazed that I wasn’t in it.
“I just clicked on the link and saw it and watched it. Just kind of shocked. They’ve had over a year to kind of put it out. So I don’t know. Somebody probably got fired over it or should.”
When it comes to motivation, the Fox snub was simply a bonus for Koepka, who feels he will only have to compete with a handful of players because the majority know already they can’t win.
“I whittled it down to way less than 35 [at Bethpage],” Koepka said. “I’d say the same thing again. If I do what I’m supposed to do, I know I’m going to beat over half the field. And from there, guys are going to change their game and the way they go about it. So you’re down to about 30 guys.
“And from there, pressure, and who’s going to play good. So you’re down to about a handful of guys. That’s just how I view it, how I view going into every tournament, every Major.”
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