Shane Lowry: Putting a price on Portrush

On Wednesday, Shane Lowry toasted 2019. His team — including manager Conor Ridge, caddie Brian Martin and coach Neil Manchip — had gathered for Christmas lunch. Before they began, the big man raised a glass.

Shane Lowry: Putting a price on Portrush

On Wednesday, Shane Lowry toasted 2019. His team — including manager Conor Ridge, caddie Brian Martin and coach Neil Manchip — had gathered for Christmas lunch. Before they began, the big man raised a glass.

“Lads, this time last year, we would have been in Abrakebabra,” Lowry suggested. “Now we’re sitting in Patrick Guilbaud’s.”

From burgers and chips to Michelin star cuisine. His remarks made for easy laughs but joking aside, all could appreciate the analogy.

“We were in an extremely exclusive restaurant with the Claret Jug drinking some nice claret,” Neil Manchip elaborated.

“As he would say himself, he’s had two fairytales now: winning the Irish Open and winning The Open Championship.

"He used to say, whatever he did in golf he would never beat what he did in Baltray. And then he went and did it.”

Lowry started the year without a PGA Tour card, wondering would he make the field for an open in Oman. Now he begins each day as The Open champion.

“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t looked back on it since,” he said, speaking at the Allianz-sponsored Irish Golf Writers’ Awards in Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links on Thursday.

“It’s been an amazing year, an amazing few months for everyone involved.”

These festive weeks allow time for celebration and reflection. Lowry is at ease with himself in either mode, happy to savour those sweet pictures from Royal Portrush without his feet leaving the ground.

“I fell in love with the game,” Lowry explained. “I wanted to see how good I could be. That’s never going to stop now.

"I never thought, standing in Esker Hills 15 years ago, I’d be here with my name on the Claret Jug. Even to talk about it like that is incredible.”

A rainbow describes his career arc and this season has been the most colourful. Hindsight affords him a clearer view, the space to see how it all unfolded.

He returns to the scene of his January win at the Abu Dhabi Championship and contemplates the year’s beginning from present perspective.

“I definitely think the last seven holes at Abu Dhabi have played a big part in the whole year,” Lowry maintained.

“If I didn’t go on to win there, it might have been hard to take. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in life, in golf, anything.

"It was something that gave me an awful lot of confidence going forward.”

Defeat then and old demons resurface: another four shot lead lost on the final day. Victory put Oakmont to bed.

Enjoying a celebratory Christmas lunch with the Claret Jug from left: Shane Lowry, Brian Moran, Neil Manchip, Robbie Cannon, Paraic O’Reilly, Brian ‘Bo’ Martin, and Conor Ridge.
Enjoying a celebratory Christmas lunch with the Claret Jug from left: Shane Lowry, Brian Moran, Neil Manchip, Robbie Cannon, Paraic O’Reilly, Brian ‘Bo’ Martin, and Conor Ridge.

But five months down the road, his failed US Open bid hovered again.

Prior to Portrush, the portents were good: “Looking back on it, I realise I had quite a bit of form going in. I had a chance to win in Hilton Head. I had a good chance to win in Canada as well.

"Really bad first round at the US Open and I battled back really well. The PGA, really bad first round, battled back and finished in the top 10.

“I was having a really good summer. I was playing good golf but I didn’t think that going into The Open, which was good for me.

"I was a little bit anxious about how I was playing. I was fully on the ball when I got out there.”

Lowry met with his coach the day before the tournament, their normal routine. They walked through town, seeking a quiet spot for golf conversation.

After stopping at a local craft shop to pick up presents, they convened upstairs in the Bushmills Inn.

“We talked through all the scenarios that may or may not happen,” Neil Manchip explained. “What to do if he got off to a slow start, what to do if he got off to a really good start.

I really didn’t have any expectations. All about the first shot, that’s it.

Lowry emerged from that meeting confident and attested to Manchip’s input after Thursday’s opening round of 67: “We had a great chat for about 40 minutes. We just put everything out in the open. I left that room full of confidence and ready to go.”

For all that he accrued chatting with his coach, Lowry still had to cope with the talk in his head: “You go into (something) like that and you’re never really overly comfortable with your game because it’s such a big week.

"The Open in Portrush, I didn’t think we’d ever see it there for a start. Then you’re there. I love the place. Little things annoy you.

"Your family working on Thursday and Friday and they’re coming up to watch the golf at the weekend and you’re like: ‘God, if I miss the cut then they won’t be able to come up.’ Things like that go through your head.”

Those fears abated early on Friday. Lowry opened with three consecutive birdies, quickly moving clear. By day’s end, he topped the leaderboard alongside American JB Holmes, undaunted.

“I go to every tournament believing I can win so it didn’t really throw me I was leading the tournament,” he reasoned.

The wait until Saturday’s penultimate round proved less comfortable.

“You’re playing at 3.40pm and it’s the longest morning of your life. I go out and get off to a great start.

"I’m playing well and I’m doing the right things. I’m making good decisions. I’m happy with how things are going.”

On 14, a stray tee shot broke the spell: “I actually hit someone, which stopped it from going into really heavy stuff.

"I remember walking down and my dad was standing there going, ‘You hit someone in the head.’ ‘Alright, relax!’ I signed a glove and said sorry. I went about my business.

"I missed the green then and I had a really difficult pitch shot. I hit a lovely pitch to four feet and holed that for par.

"From there on, I birdied three of the last four and just missed on 18. I felt so in control and so aware of what was going on.

"Mentally, I’ve never been in that place. It’s an incredible place to be in.”

The leader now, on his own, Lowry had four strokes on the field.

Three questions into his post round press conference, the Clara man faced a familiar query: “I was asked about Oakmont,” he recalled.

“I was happy that I laid it all out on the table: it’s going to be incredibly difficult 24 hours for me but the one thing I’m going to do is fight.

I’m going to fight for that trophy. To be honest, if I look back on 2016, what I learned from there, I didn’t really fight to the very end. I kind of gave up.

“That’s hard to say but I did. When I got to all square from being four ahead, I handed it to him [Dustin Johnson]. I knew going out on Sunday, I was going to have to fight.

"I think the weather actually helped me a little bit because everybody was going to have to fight for pars and whatever you could get on that Sunday.”

As soon as he left the first tee, Lowry knew the battle was on. His ball flirted with out of bounds down the left side.

Unable to clear a bunker guarding the green, his second shot finished in sand. From there, he left himself 40 feet away.

“I hit a brutal first putt that went to eight feet,” he stated. “That was a huge moment in the grand scheme of things really. Tommy missed his putt.

"I banged mine into the back of the hole. I went to the next tee three ahead but I felt like I was nearly after gaining a shot on him.”

Following birdies at four, five and seven, Lowry sensed his Major coming: “From there on I felt it was mine and I wasn’t going to let it slip.”

Competing emotions accompanied him for the walk down No 18: Elation and confusion.

“I’ve never won a tournament easily before,” he conceded. “Never won a tournament by a few shots. Never enjoyed that walk up 18.

"I kind of didn’t know what to do with myself. I turned around and hugged Bo [caddie Brian Martin]. I put my hands in the air.”

Does winning The Open change you? This time last year, Shane Lowry would have believed so.

Winning forced a rethink: “I genuinely don’t feel like a different person to the one before Portrush. I just have to keep being me.

"It’s about going out every day and trying to be the best person you can be. If you do that, and I think it’s a good thing for anyone to do, the end goals will always take care of themselves.”

What brings most satisfaction is the chance to share this success with those closest to him. During this week of merrymaking, there have been sober moments.

Last Wednesday night, John Buckley, a friend from home, lost his fight with cancer. He was 40.

“I’ve not been through tough times when it comes to it,” Lowry insisted. “I know that golf is not everything. It doesn’t matter.

"People talk about bad times in golf, it’s not bad times. We’re out there doing the thing we love. Yes, it’s my career but it’s only a game.

“One of the proudest moments for me this year was when John came up to my house. He was on his way from St Vincent’s, from treatment one day, and I handed him the Claret Jug walking in the gate. Stuff like that you can’t buy.”

As prizes go, this one is priceless.

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