Shane Lowry relishing fans’ return at The Open
Open champion Shane Lowry admits he had no desire to defend his title at an empty course last year so is relishing the return of fans to Royal St George’s in July.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted the R&A to postpone the 149th staging of the event rather than try to press ahead without spectators, which gave the Irishman a bonus 12 months with the Claret Jug
That extended period of possession did lead to the odd extra bump and scrape and the 34-year-old has had to take the famous old trophy in for a minor repair.
But when he hands back the good-as-new Claret Jug in just under seven weeks’ time, his first thought will be to recapture it – with the help of the backing of up to 30,000 spectators at a reduced-capacity event.
“I was disappointed at the start but I am going to get the upside of defending in front of a few people this year,” said Lowry, whose only previous appearance at St George’s in the Amateur Championship saw him shoot 81.
“Selfishly, the way everything happened last year I wasn’t able to go to the Irish Open or play in front of crowds as the Open champion.
“But I didn’t pack the trophy away in July and say ‘That’s my year over’. Just to have it for that length of time and be able to share it with friends and family was incredible.
“It has been sent back to be straightened once, yes. I noticed as it was going through the airport scanner it had a little dent on it – but I talked to Zach Johnson (the 2015 champion) and he said he also bent it.
“I can assure you it is in good shape and will come back nice and shiny. It will be a sad time giving it back but hopefully I get it back in the future.
“And I will prefer going back to defend my title with crowds as opposed to playing last year with no crowds.”
The R&A is optimistic it will be able to operate at up to three-quarters crowd capacity at Royal St George’s, which would usually attract 40,000 people on a single championship day.
“The one thing I am clear about is we will play the Open at St George’s,” said R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.
“Uncertainty is about what the environment will be we will operate in.
“We are optimistic for a significant attendance of up to 75 per cent of capacity.”
Lowry registered his first top-10 major finish in five outings since winning the Open at Royal Portrush with a joint-fourth place in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island on Sunday.
In his final round he played with, and finished level alongside, Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington.
Lowry currently sits outside automatic qualification on both the World and European points lists but has his sights set on making his debut for the team at Whistling Straits in September.
Finishing like he did in South Carolina, with Harrington watching closely, will go some way to persuading his long-time friend he is worthy of one of three captain’s picks.
“I play a lot of golf with Padraig, I spend a lot of time with him but to do that in front of him was pretty nice, very satisfying,” said Lowry.
“Padraig knows what I can do. I can only put my best foot forward. I’m in a good position to make the team this year.
“If I play to the best of my ability over the next few months I could make that team and that’s my main goal.
“If I don’t make it I want to be so close so I make a decision for him.
“The whole rookie thing will be talked about but I don’t feel like a rookie.”
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