From Sunday morning nerves to lifting the Claret Jug, Shane Lowry’s big day out at Royal Portrush turned the Irishman from nearly man into a force to be reckoned with among golf’s elite.
The Open Championship, golf’s oldest major, has frequently had the capacity to produce a “lucky” winner given its traditional seaside locations and links terrain and the vagaries of climate that go with them.
Yet Lowry’s six-stroke victory at the 148th Open last Sunday was no fluke. He was always in contention, from his opening-round, four-under-par 67, a shot behind 18-hole leader JB Holmes, sharing the halfway lead with the American with another 67 on Friday, to a course-record 63 on Saturday.
That gave the 32-year-old a four-shot lead after 54 holes but only brought more questions of the man who had been in that position before only to lose the 2016 US Open with a final-round 76.
This time around, Lowry had the answers. He confronted those fears that Saturday night, discussed them publicly during his end-of-round press conference, and then embraced them the following day along with the love of the hugely partisan crowds that made this record-breaking week on the Antrim coast such a huge success.
Not that it was entirely nerveless. Lowry slept fitfully ahead of his final round, sending caddie Brian “Bo” Martin a 6.30am text which read, jokingly: “At least I got a good night’s sleep.”
Nor was there a hearty Ulster fry that morning. “I hardly had anything on Sunday. I had two small slices of brown bread, one slice of bacon and I’d say, one egg scrambled. And I didn’t have any lunch. I had a banana and a protein bar on the course just to keep me going. I felt sick with nerves all day, even on the course. The rest of the week we ate quite well but Sunday was quite hard.”
Sunday was also majestic, Lowry following up on his freewheeling eight-under 63 of the previous day by dealing best with the appalling weather conditions, his one-over 74 a cut above anything his nearest rivals could summon in the wind and the rain.
If there was a wobble, it came at the first hole, his shaky tee shot keeping low and left and settling into the rough, albeit the safe side of the internal out of bounds that had done for Rory McIlroy on the first day.
By the time Lowry walked off the green, he had escaped with a morale-boosting bogey five, sinking a difficult and nerve-wracking putt as playing partner and main threat Tommy Fleetwood failed to capitalise, missing his birdie putt.
The dye was cast. When Lowry and Martin walked up the 18th, playing pied pipers to the masses that had roared on their encouragement with every shot, the Clara golfer had not just secured his first major championship but also laid down an important marker that here was a talent that can get the job done, was one to be feared, and not afraid of any challenge
offered to him.
Lowry could not help but agree when that point was put to him as he did the media rounds on Tuesday, his mind already focused on the first major of 2020, 257 days from now, when the Masters tees off at Augusta National.
“That’s the way it is because people will know if my name is on the leaderboard on Sunday in Augusta, they know I can get the job done.
“I went out there on Saturday and shot one of the best rounds of my life, probably under the most pressure I’ve ever felt in my whole life.
“It can’t help but give me confidence and hopefully I can put myself in a winning position.
“Playing in big tournaments is all about getting through Thursday and Friday without doing any damage, then go out Saturday and Sunday and give it your best shot. I did it the other day. No matter what happens, I’ve another (so many more) majors to play in, if I can do it a couple of times...
“Every tournament I play is big and every time I go to a tournament I want to do well, and play well. That’s not always going to happen. When I do get up there at the top I know can I go back (to the memory of Royal Portrush).
“We said it on 18, Bo said to me: ‘Look at those last four tee shots, you’re after winning’. I can always go back.”
That sort of belief will be a priceless commodity as Lowry attempts to consolidate his hard-earned status as a major champion and continue his climb up the world rankings from his present position of 17th. Yet that was not always the case. While others, such as his coach, mentor, and sounding board Neil Manchip were convinced he had the talent to win a major, the man himself needed Sunday’s victory to confirm he belonged at golf’s top table. “You don’t know, do you?” Lowry said.
“The one thing I’ve realised over the last couple of days is the people that haven’t won one. You know, obviously you look at the people who have won one and you look at the names on that trophy, then you look at the great golfers that haven’t won one. It’s like, ‘oh my God, I’ve won one’.
“You always have doubts in your head. You always have doubts about if you’re good enough, if you’re good enough to get the job done, or, if you put yourself in the position, do you have the balls? Do you have the balls to go out there and do it because that’s what it takes?
“It’s a lonely place out there when you’re not going well and I’ve had a couple of bad Sundays in majors and one particularly bad one. I was going out there on Sunday just hoping it wasn’t going to happen to me that day. I was hoping I was going out there and be able to man up and win the tournament.
“So I’m obviously quite happy that I was able to because it would have been quite difficult if I didn’t win on Sunday, you know, going out with another four-shot lead.”
The demons of Oakmont 2016 have been banished, the lessons learned, and the secrets of success unlocked.
“I said to myself on Sunday, ‘No matter what happens here I’m going to fight to the bitter end’. I don’t think I did that at Oakmount.
“I don’t think I had it then. I have it now.”
‘If my name is on leaderboard on Sunday in Augusta, they know I can get the job done’
Shane Lowry on...
If anything, we had to listen to ‘Baby Shark’ on the way to the course to keep Iris quiet. We were going around the course singing ‘Baby Shark’.
“I’m leading the Race to Dubai, I’m up there in the FedEx Cup, I don’t have to worry about the world rankings; it’s all good, isn’t it?Obviously there’s the FedEx Cup coming up and then a big run of tournaments at the end of the year, and in between that I don’t know what I’m going to play. When I start practising again next week, I’ll be solely focused on trying to finish as high up the FedEx Cup as I can, trying to get to Atlanta (for the Tour Championship finale). And if I get to Atlanta, you never know what can happen.”
“I just want to play in it. I’ve watched the last couple, I had a good chance to make the team a few years ago and I didn’t and I was very jealous, envious of the guys playing, and I just want to experience it. I’m ambitious and I don’t want to miss out on it, I want to see what it’s like and obviously next year, to play with Paddy (Harrington) ascaptain would be great as well.”
“Yeah, it will be incredible, won’t it? I missed the last one. I got a lot of stick for that but I had my own reasons. This has gone a long way to putting me on the plane for Japan. I am very excited to be going. We’ll be going over the week after the Open next year for the opening ceremony so to be around all that will be pretty cool. Hopefully, I can go there. Wins are hard to go by. Hopefully I can bring a medal home.”
“Yeah. That was my eighth Open Championship and it was my best, without doubt.”