Shane Lowry pictured at Galgorm on Wednesday. Photo: Getty Images
SHANE Lowry and Padraig Harrington both return to European Tour action at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, with this week marking a significant milestone for each of the home heroes.
Lowry tees it up in Northern Ireland 14 months after winning his maiden Major title just 30 miles away at Royal Portrush, where he famously claimed the 2019 Open Championship in front of the jubilant home fans.
It also marks a first appearance on European soil in 2020 for the Offaly player, a former winner of this event back in 2009 - another famous occasion in his career as he stunned the field by winning his national open as a little-known 22-year-old amateur.
Harrington, meanwhile, makes his first competitive start in six months at Galgorm Castle Golf Club. The three-time Major winner would have been captaining Europe this week in The Ryder Cup, but the postponement of golf's biggest team event meant the 65th edition of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open took its place in the schedule.
“As long as the tournament went ahead, I was always going to be here. Unless there was a Major Championship, I don’t think I would’ve missed it. I’m here now so I might as well play well," said LOwry.
"It’s going to be a lot different. We’ve played a lot of tournaments without fans over the last few weeks and it is strange. Especially the bigger events and this is going to be one of the bigger events for me. We’ll see how it goes. I’m used to it now so I’ll just get out and do what I’ve been doing, try and shoot the best scores I can and see where it leaves me.
"I arrived today and got my test done and I believe the bubble is a little stricter here in Europe. We’re confined to the hotel, which is fine, I don’t mind that at all. Anything to play golf, we’re very fortunate to be doing what we do for a living. There are plenty of people out there who have lost their jobs through all this so I’m very happy just to be doing my job and trying to do my best."
Meanwhile, the European Ryder Cup captain admitted this week was very much a case of seeing what happens.
“I’m injured – six months off and come back with an injury. I hit a lot of balls and pushed my body a bit too far. I’m not competitive, I’m not ready in that sense. You never would be in your first event, but I’m going to give it a shot. Go out there and play, no expectations, throw in a few more clichés and see what happens," said Harrington.
"I’ve been playing for 25 years, having six months off isn’t a bad thing for me. I spent those six months working a lot on my swing and technique and getting some stuff clear in my own head. The great thing after six months is I’m quite ready to go play some golf.
"I’ve had a couple of months now since it was announced that The Ryder Cup was postponed where I really didn’t have to think about it. The last week or two there’s been a lot more, I’d have picked the team last week, I’d have been there.
"I put on my phone last night to check the forecast for Sheboygan to see what the weather would have been like – nice, sunny, 70 degrees all week. It’s on my mind at the moment but next week we’ll be back to normal business. The points start again in January and we’ll start thinking about it," he added.
Paul Dunne, another of the Irish contingent playinmg in his home tournament, admitted it all felt a 'bit weird.'
“It almost doesn't feel like we're at home," he said.
"The Irish fans are usually so loud and they come out in big numbers. It's different, but it's nice to be driving my own car, staying relatively close to home, home comforts. Hopefully I can perform.
"At this course you could do with the fans to find your ball in the rough. We've got a bit of U.S. Open rough out there. It will be different, but it's the same for everyone. We're kind of getting used to these events now week in and week out. Like everyone I'm just hoping we can get back to normal sooner rather than later, though.
"I'm adapting OK, it is what it is. The weeks are a little bit more mundane than they usually are, you can't get out and about and do things and your dinner companions are the same every night. Look, it beats sitting at home being locked down, it's a much better alternative," he added.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open tees off at Galgorm on Thursday morning.