Shane Lowry and Irish golf looking to new dawn

Shane Lowry shows off the trophy after winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Saturday. Picture: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

Irish golf sang with one voice at the weekend as Shane Lowry buried the demons of his 2016 US Open disappointment and saluted the GUI and the ILGU for voting overwhelmingly for the creation of one governing body.

That he would take a moment after what was arguably the biggest win of his career following a heart-stopping final hole win over Richard Sterne in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to note that 100% of the ILGU affiliated clubs and 94% of those under the GUI umbrella should take this historic step said it all about a landmark weekend for Irish golf.

A triple celebration was in full swing in the early hours of Sunday morning when Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell — one of the Irish trio Lowry followed in practice for Eisenhower Trophy at Carton House last year — became the first Irish winner in the 125-year history of the Australian Amateur Championship, beating local hero Nathan Barbieri on the 37th at Woodlands Golf Club in Melbourne.

There were doubts that men’s clubs would vote so overwhelmingly in favour of the creation of Golf Ireland from 2021, giving the project a clear mandate.

But while Purcell might also have had doubts after he lost a four-up lead with 10 holes to go and was taken to sudden-death in the 36-hole final, Lowry’s dramatic victory was the ultimate in self-belief.

Yes, he’d won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur and held off a world-class field to win the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

But having seen a four-stroke lead evaporate in the final round of the US Open at Oakmont three years ago and been unable to react, it took huge self-belief to dispel any lingering self-doubt about his ‘bottle’ in the Arabian desert.

Three clear overnight, he fell four behind Sterne with just seven holes left to play but dismissed all thoughts of capitulation and played his last seven holes in three-under to reignite his career.

It’s a victory that catapults him comfortably back into the world’s top 50 — “Back where he needs to be,” Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington said — and on track to build a schedule that will allow him challenge strongly for a place Harrington’s 2020 team when qualifying for Whistling Straits begins in September.

He was determined to show down the stretch that his Oakmont reverse was part of the learning curve and like Irish amateur golf, took a giant step into a new era.

“The one thing I got from Oakmont is that I laid down and I didn’t show any fight or bottle there,” Lowry admitted on Saturday night. “And I did that today.

I felt after the 11th hole, I was getting myself in the same situation that I got myself in Oakmont. I genuinely thought that.

But I kind of had a quick word with myself and told myself that, you know, just kick on now and just see what I can do for the next six or seven holes.

Speaking later to RTÉ Radio, he said: “I think I showed great guts and courage and determination today. I showed the type of player that I really am. I am well able for the tough part of it as well.

“Losing my card in America and not playing so well for a few years has been difficult, but I am just very happy to be back with a win. God, it means the world to me.”

Lowry is expected to jump from 75th to around 40th in the world today, which means he will be in the WGC Mexico Championship, the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play and should also remain in the top 50 who qualify for the Masters, not to mention The Players.

He’s also certain to qualify for the US PGA Championship in May, and more than likely for the US Open at Pebble Beach and The Open at Royal Portrush.

“It was such a negative losing my card last year and having not played Abu Dhabi since 2014, I wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t lost my card. Obviously it was a blessing in disguise.

“I just think it’s going to give me confidence and I need to build on that. I just need to kick on now for the rest of the year and see where it leaves me.”

As for the Ryder Cup, he said: "I still have a goal in my head I’m working towards every day and just because I won this doesn’t mean I can take my foot off the gas.

“It’s a great stepping stone, no doubt because I’m back in the big tournaments now for the foreseeable future and hopefully I can kick on from here and move back up the World Rankings where I feel like I really belong.”

The vote in favour of the proposal to create Golf Ireland — heraldng the end of the GUI (founded in 1891) and the ILGU (1893) from 1 January 2021 — was hailed as a huge step forward As ILGU Chief Executive Sinead Heraty said yesterday: “We never expected 100% on our side, so to get a unanimous vote is incredible.

“I also didn’t expect it to be as high on the men’s side. The 94% figure is phenomenal and it just goes to prove that the clubs very much approve of the direction that we are going in.

“It is great to have that kind of mandate going into a two-year transition.

“I thought it was brilliant that Shane Lowry mentioned it yesterday after what was a superb win for him.

“For him to pick up on that was a class touch. It was a great weekend for Irish golf.”

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