WHEN it comes to sporting challenges, there are not many tougher than the US Open Golf Championship.
Notorious for deep rough close to the fairway and greens which severely punishes even the slightly wayward shot, the second major of the year is regarded by many as the ultimate test of golf played in an intimidating atmosphere in front of a very vocal and partisan home crowd.
The course is set up for as few golfers as possible to finish under par which came to fruition last year in Pebble Beach as champion Graeme McDowell was the only player not over par when he finished on Even Par after 72 holes.
Into this cauldron at Congressional Golf Course in Maryland, this week steps Offaly’s Shane Lowry who qualified for the event after a stunning two rounds at a qualifying event at Walton Heath.
Shane will become just the tenth Irish man to play at the event when he tees it up in the first group out on Thursday at 7am local time, 12pm Irish time.
Any nerves the Esker Hills Clubman may have will have been eased by the fact that he is sharing a house this week with his friend and defending champions Graeme McDowell. The pair were out together for their first practice round on Monday and McDowell’s experience can’t hurt Lowry’s chances of making an impression at the event.
In total this is just Shane’s third major championship after he played at the USPGA Championship and the Open Championship last year. He finished inside the top 30 at St Andrew’s and will be looking to improve on that result this week.
A key factor in the US Open is accuracy and distance off the tee, somewhere Shane will not be found wanting this week.
He currently ranks 16th in terms of Driving Accuracy on the European Tour hitting the fairway 69% of the time. If he maintains that level this week, he will be in good position more often than not to attack what will be very fast and very sloping greens at Congressional.
According to his stats, Shane currently hits the green in regulation just under 64% of the time which is down on his figure from 2010. Trouble is easy to find very close to the green at the US Open although the Offaly golfer is noted for his ability to get up and down and salvage par when he does miss the green.
In recent weeks Shane has been in excellent form finishing in the 13th, 11th, 5th and 4th in four consecutive tournaments with the fourth place at the BMW PGA Championship netting him €191,000 and all but guaranteeing him his tour card for next year.
That has taken a certain amount of pressure off the shoulders of the 2009 3 Irish Open Champion as it will allow him to play with more freedom for the rest of the year.
The key for him this week is consistency. He is more than capable of knocking out a low score on any given round but too often he gives it away with a poor round. If he can play consistently well for four days, he will be in the hunt.
At 125/1 Shane is amongst the outsiders for the tournament but those who know his game know he has the capability to be in there challenging on Sunday. With Paddy Power paying each way for the top six, he might even be worth a small punt.