People wonder how players keep their heads given the magnitude of what a prize like the Claret Jugre presents but it’s the madness of it all that overwhelms when the 18th approaches and the divide between those inside and outside the ropes begins to buckle under the waves of emotion.
The chaos kicked in as early as the 17th yesterday when Tommy Fleetwood’s tee shot landed amid a clump of journalists and photographers who had wandered ahead to beat thedescending hordes. They seemed oblivious even when the Englishman’s Titleist
Pro V1x bounced around their shuffling feet, though it may have just been fatigue or impending pneumonia that had dulled the senses by then.
By the time the last pairing strode down the 18th there was a scramble of Irishmen behind them not seen since Mel Gibson used members of Óglaigh na hÉireann to film the Battle of Stirling in the Curragh. And by the time the mass had encircled the 18th green it resembled a scene from ‘Zulu’.
Brendan Lowry had already allowed himself to celebrate by then. Lowry Snr had followed his lad up hill and down dale but he struck off ahead before they played the last hole and was halfway down the fairway when Shane’s ball parked itself in the middle of the highway.
A raised right fist, followed by a pump with the left, signalled dad’s release from the nerves that must have cost him all ten fingernails but his son still seemed to need some reassurance. A gentle pat on the back from his caddy Bo Martin, a puff of the cheeks and he was ready to finish up.
It was only when his last approach shot found succour from the chaos and the threat of last-minute disaster, that the man from Clara spread his arms wide, raised his head and allowed the giddiness of it all to wash over him. “It feels like a bit of an out-of-body experience,” he said later.
Pádraig Harrington had spoken on Friday about the difficulty of dealing with the clamour that comes with leading an Open and Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA champion and now a commentator with Sky Sports, spoke for so many after when he expressed his awe at the manner in which Lowry had stayed so calm.
But it’s not the roars and the general hubbub that test the nerves on days like this so much as the silences and the sight of thousands of people standing utterly still and quiet in a field, like a vast army of Terracotta Warriors that has been restored to its original multi-coloured vibrancy.
The cheers and gasps and applause burst from the quiet like a seismograph gone mad at the prompting of an earthquake. But they are intermittent. There and gone again. They are intruders on the hush and unbearable tension that makes up the majority of a four-hour stretch like this.
Rory McIlroy alluded to this on Friday evening after the 65 which generated such fervour around Portrush. It wasn’t, he said, the deafening decibels that caught his attention as he scrambled to avoid the cut but the calm that descended whenever he stood over a drive or a putt.
You can see why it could be unnerving.
“This is game No.37...” said the starter in his usual measured tone at 1.47pm. Some thought Lowry looked nervous. Focused, others insisted. Whatever his mental state, his opening tee shot scuddered low past the throngs lining the right side of the fairway before landing in the long stuff.
How would he react? Would thoughts of Oakmont resurface? Did the concerned hum that escaped from the crowd strike a nerve and feed the mind of a man that has slept just half the night before rising to his fate at 6.30am?
There’s something surreal, ridiculous even, about the sight of hundreds of people scurrying up dunes and down dips to look at two people whack a ball around acres of artificially engineered landscapes. It’s not normal. More than 70 media alone shadowed Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood from inside the ropes here.
A mass of humanity traipsed after the leaders from the first tee. The congregation grew as it snaked its way about the links, the Irishman and the Englishman gathering more disciples and emptying grandstands and greenside perches as they went.
“Next week I’m playing in Memphis and there will probably be ten men and a dog following me!” Lowry had laughed on Friday evening after clambering to the top of the leaderboard. That’s not likely now but it’s important to remember that those numbers are the norm.
You couldn’t say Lowry enjoyed his final round in anything like the manner he had his 63 on Saturday.History isn’t often written with a smile and there was ne’er an acknowledgement of the thousands of cheers that bore his name as he made his way around.
Hands proffered for a high five went unslapped.
The Tricolours that decorated all 18 holes as he passed seemed to go unnoticed, so too the guy who couldn’t help but roar ‘Up Laois!’ a handful of times when Lowry had enough to consider with the torrential rain, gathering wind and the unwanted collection of bogeys in and around the turn.
He dealt with it. All of it. The din and the deadness.