PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland. Professional golf at the highest of levels goes beyond sheer talent — most of them have that in spades. It takes a sense of hubris — because frankly the odds in making a successful career in professional golf is rather remote. You have to command such a belief in one’s abilities because the landscape is littered with mine fields — both physically and mentally for those who have come and gone.
When Shane Lowry claimed the ’09 Irish Open as an amateur his ascent to the upper ranks in world golf appeared to be on the fast track. Lowry has always been known for his fierce competitive nature and showing such early success clearly built expectations. Clearly, to think one can play professional golf and be a success in doing so requires a focus few people will ever fathom.
Lowry showed such promise claiming the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in 2015. Less than a year later he led by four strokes going into the final round at Oakmont during the 2016 US Open. Although he did not win the runner-up finish portended even bigger and better results just ahead.
But that’s the funny thing about golf — past results don’t mean much. They are indicators — but they are not by any means sure things.
When Lowry failed to make the cut at last year’s Open at Carnoustie it marked his fourth consecutive missed cut in the game’s oldest major championship. When he gave his caddie of nine years walking papers it appeared the word professional golfers fear more than any other was now happening — doubt. Matters became more serious when losing his PGA Tour card and having to return to Europe to get his bearings on what would happen next.
The winds began to shift when Shane was victorious at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship this past January. There were still stumbles — a missed cut at The Masters but he quickly rebounded one month later with a tie for 8th finish at the PGA Championship at Bethpage and followed-up with a quality effort at the US Open at Pebble Beach with a tie for 23rd.
Going into this year’s Open Championship the focus of media and even his fellow countrymen was quite rightly on Rory McIlroy — the gifted four-time major winner as well as other noted Irish golfers with the likes of Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington leading the way. On the eve of the championship Lowry huddled with his coach Neil Manchip at the nearby Bushmills Inn for a coffee and the counsel proved uplifting.
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As The Open headed into the final 36 holes it was only Lowry carrying the banner sharing the top of the leaderboard. His 63 during the 3rd round was simply magical. No bogies on the card along with eight birdies and an inward half score of 30.
With a four stroke lead going into the final round and the weight of an island on his shoulders the 32-year-old admitted his dreams of a major were right on the doorstep of reality. He also admitted, to his considerable credit, what the nerves would be like in trying to accomplish that.
If anything signaled the nature of the final round it came quickly and suddenly at the 1st hole. Lowry escaped with a bogey after sinking a testing 8-foot putt. Tommy Fleetwood, his playing partner, had a good look at birdie from six feet but missed. The possibility in losing more than one stroke was there but Lowry contained the damage and from that point on was never seriously challenged. Shane’s exquisite par save from the greenside bunker at the 13th was well played and when he birdied the 15th after a superb approach and short putt the march to the clubhouse was a long procession of increasing cheers and a final six shot triumph.
Amazingly, it took 68 years to return but the 2019 Open Championship will always be remembered because an Irishman took home the famed Claret Jug. Yes, St. Patrick is the patron saint of The Emerald Isle but if you did a poll and asked who’s in second position you can be sure among Irish golfers the name Shane Lowry is sure to be mentioned.
In a remarkable and storybook manner the 32-year-old becomes just the 5th Irishman to take the yearly possession of the Claret Jug. But, all the others did so when The Open was played in either Scotland or England. To win on one’s own soil is a feat that will forever be remembered as long as sport is played in Ireland.
The final round weather featured a range of elements — spitting heavy rain at times and volatile wind conditions that picked up in intensity as the final round proceeded. In the last twelve pairings no one broke par and Lowry’s one-over-score showed a resolute quality to finish the job — something he had learned from his experience at Oakmont.
Irish eyes are indeed rightly smiling today — none more than Shane Lowry. What happened at Royal Portrush was far more than the luck of the Irish — it was a man who would not be denied in doing what so few believed could actually happen. Hearing the words “champion golfer of the year” proclaimed for an Irishman on Irish soil is truly a storybook outcome.