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By Brian Keogh
Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile
Shane Lowry might be focussed on the Turkish Airlines Open and the Race to Dubai but he admits that it would be “an incredible honour” to carry to Irish flag at next year’s Olympic Games and a dream to win gold.
While qualifying for Japan does not officially end until 22 June next year, Lowry and Rory McIlroy already look to have their spots in the 60-man field locked up for the trip to Kasumigaseki Country Club from July 30 to August 2.
The event begins just 11 days after the final major of the season—The Open in Sandwich—and reigning Open champion Lowry sheepishly admits he already has his flights booked so he’s in Tokyo for the opening ceremony.
“I am not 100 percent on the team,” Lowry said before a huge grin broke across his bearded features. “But I have my flights booked for the Wednesday after The Open. If I am not there I will cancel them.”
The Irish duo will be two of the highest profile athletes in the Irish Olympic team and two clear candidates to add to Ireland’s haul of just nine Olympic gold medals.
The honour of carrying the tricolour into the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony has been awarded in the past to such names as Ronnie Delany (1960), Sonia O’Sullivan (2000) and Katie Taylor (2012) but were he to be asked to be the standard bearer, Lowry admits he would not hesitate.
“I wouldn’t say no,” said Lowry. “Everybody knows how patriotic and Irish I am but, look, there is obviously going to be other athletes there who will be putting their name forward I am sure.
"Wouldn’t it be an incredible honour for myself and my family to do something like that? So, yes.”
Lowry’s coach Neil Manchip will be the team leader for the men’s golf team in Japan and while staying in the Olympic village will be too logistically difficult, Lowry is keen to compete with McIlroy for gold.
“We don't win that many gold medals in Ireland,” he said. “That would be a huge moment if I could do that, but obviously, it will be quite difficult.
“I obviously won't be going in as the favourite to win it. But maybe my teammate might be. We have obviously got a good team and could go over there and hopefully do something special between the two of us.”
He’s a huge admirer of McIlroy and all he’s achieved, especially this year.
“I’ve been saying it all along,” Lowry said. "I know he hasn't done it in the majors and that's been well publicised over the last couple of weeks, but when he has his A-game, there is nobody better than him.”
Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile
Golf was only reintroduced to the Olympics after an absence of 112 years in 2016 with Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar occupying the podium in Rio.
The Englishman’s endorsement contracts have multiplied since his gold medal performance and next year’s golf event is likely to attract a bumper field following a slew of defections in Rio, where the Zika virus frightened the likes of Lowry and McIlroy away.
Lowry, whose wife gave birth to the couple’s first child just six months after the Rio games, wonders aloud if Olympic gold medal may one day be seen as golf’s fifth major.
But for now he admits that it’s a far bigger deal for the athletes competing in the traditional Olympic disciplines.
“This is their life,” Lowry said. “Every four years, this is their chance and their opportunity. Golfers are a little bit different in that way. We have so much every week, every year.
“The other athletes that train day in, day out for four years for one week, it obviously means a lot more to them because it is their life.
“I won't actually start thinking about the Olympics until after the Open next year. And that will be the week before it.”
As for his Olympic memories, they are all of recent vintage.
“I always remember watching Sonia O'Sullivan finishing second in Sydney in 2000,” he said. “That's the first thing that comes into my head. Then Katie [Taylor] and Michael Conlan in London. I don't remember 1996 and I was only five in 1992.”
Winning the Race to Dubai remains a goal and while it would be easy to rest on his laurels after his Open win, a top two finish this week could see him overtake Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger at the top of the Race to Dubai.
Rose will be going for a third Turkish Airlines Open win in a row and he revealed it was attending the opening ceremony at the 2016 Olympics that inspired him to win gold.
Justin Rose. Photo by Golffile
“I got a feeling of what it was actually all about,” Rose said. “If I just tried to make it just another golf tournament, who knows what would have happened.”
As for Lowry, he’s looking at Turkey and Dubai as two chances to win the Race to Dubai.
“You still want to put yourself under pressure, and I still want to get the best out of myself every day I go out,” said Lowry, who tees it up today with Wiesberger and Olympic champion Rose at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal track in Belek.
“When it is all over in three weeks time, I will sit back and be happy enough with what I have no matter what happens the next couple of weeks.
“It's just about getting my mind right this next 24 hours to let myself go out this week and just play my best golf and do the same when it comes to Dubai.”
Ryder Cup skipper Harrington will tee it up with France’s Victor Perez and Austria’s Matthias Schwab, who lie second and seventh respectively in European Points list.
Unlike Lowry, Wiesberger plans to play in next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge and having fallen outside the top 300 in the world last year following a long layoff forced by wrist injury, he’s pinching himself to be in with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai.
"To be honest it was not on my list, to be standing No. 1 on The Race to Dubai before the last three events,” he said. “But I'm kind of the guy that goes week by week and day by day and just try to get the most out of myself every day out on the golf course, and you know, at the end of the year, you all add it up.”
In Mallorca, Ardglass Cormac Sharvin will have another chance to earn his maiden win at the Challenge Tour Grand Final as he prepares to graduate to the European Tour next season.
Earning a European Tour card is also a possibility for the ten Irish players teeing it up at the Second Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School at four Spanish venues today.
Niall Kearney, Daniel Brennan and amateur Ronan Mullarney (Alenda Golf); Ruaidhri McGee, Tyler Hogarty and Robin Dawson (Club de Bonmont); David Carey (Desert Springs); and John Ross Galbraith, Michael Hoey and Conor O’Rourke (Las Colinas) will be trying to join Paul Dunne and Gavin Moynihan and next week’s Final Stage battle for 25 cards.