Golf | Everyman Lowry does it his own way in Portrush win

From the time Shane Lowry picked up a golf club as a child, he would have dreamed of winning the Open Championship one day. But not even in his dreams would he have imagined it to have been in such perfect circumstances.

The Offaly man walked down the 18th at Royal Portrush Golf Club in the first Open in Ireland in 68 years to tricolours, Oles and rapturous applause from the crowd. And most importantly, it was with a six-shot lead, so he could walk up the fairway stress-free and soak in a moment that we will never forget.

Lowry becomes the fifth Irish major winner in the last 12 years since Padraig Harrington opened the account at Carnoustie in 2007. Between McDowell, Harrington, McIlroy and Clarke, you have an eclectic mix of personalities, playing styles and different journeys to the greatest prizes in golf, and in Lowry you have another man who did it his own way.

Son of an All-Ireland winning footballer but not the most athletic type, Lowry has captured the hearts of the Irish public with his down-to-earth and humble personality. A man to relate with, a man who you would like to have a pint with, but also a man with a natural talent for golf with a wonderful touch and a flowing rhythm.

But it hasn’t always been easy for Lowry, having been in the spotlight since his stunning win at the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009. Performing in the greatest period in the history of Irish golf has been a daunting task, with an expectation of major wins while living in the shadow of one of the best golfers of his generation, Rory McIlroy.

“I was always living in Rory’s shadow,” Lowry admitted. “When I turned pro, and even now, people in Ireland expect me to be as good as Rory.”

Lowry will never have a set of achievements to match McIlroy’s. But he achieved many things at Portrush of which Rory will forever be envious. His third round of 63 may be the greatest round in the history of Irish golf. It broke the new course record at Portrush, and he did it when the pressure was on. And Lowry achieved it on home soil in a special week for everyone associated with Irish golf. Never has golf looked so easy to Lowry, but it wasn’t always this way.

When Lowry led the 2016 US Open at Oakmont by four strokes heading into the final round, it was his first time in that position, and he struggled to deal with the pressure, falling to a final round 76 and losing out to Dustin Johnson. It was also a result that hit him badly, he failed to finish in the top 30 in any PGA Tour event after Oakmont and had only one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in 2017. After the opening round of the 2018 Open, he sat in his car and cried as he missed another cut.

“Golf wasn’t my friend at the time,” he said. “It was something that had become very stressful, and it was weighing on me, and I just didn’t like doing it.

“That just shows how fickle golf is. Golf is a weird sport, and you never know what’s around the corner. That’s why you need to remind yourself, and you need other people there to remind you. You need to fight through the bad times.”

Lowry took the decision to refresh his career late in 2018, letting go of a long caddie relationship with Dermot Byrne to take on another Irishman, Bo Martin as looper. The following week, Lowry finished sixth in Portugal, and he contended in Spain a few weeks later, finishing second.

In 2019, the chance to win came early at the Abu Dhabi Championship as he faced off against Richard Sterne. When the South African went out in 31 shots and Lowry went out in 37, there was a feeling of “here we go again” until the Irishman grinded it out, hitting a marvellous 3 wood into the par-5 18th to set up the winning birdie.

The win helped springboard a good year where he has finished tied-3rd at RBC Heritage, tied-8th in the PGA Championship and tied-2nd in the Canadian Open.

Yet Lowry still went into this week’s Open relatively under the radar, a smart tipster’s pick rather than one of the favourites. The Offalyman admitted to feeling nervous about his game at the beginning of the week, crediting a talk in the Bushmills Inn with his coach Neil Manchip before the tournament for laying all his cards on the table and setting his game in motion. Lowry gladly let the Northern Irish players McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke soak up the pressure and the hype before the first tee-shot, settling in for an opening 67.

When he followed up with another 67 in round two, Lowry would be in the last group on Saturday, and with McIlroy missing the cut and McDowell well down the field, represented the only Irish hope of victory. With massive crowds following his progress, it was only going to go one of two ways – a collapse under the burden of expectation or an embrace of the hopes of a nation.

“Every time I get a putt, I just want to hole it to hear the roar,” Lowry said about his round on Saturday as he did just that, knocking in eight birdies and no bogeys in a sensational round. It was there that he won the tournament, but again Sunday had its potential perils, he himself had given up a four-shot lead in a major before after all.

What was most impressive about Lowry on Sunday was the complete and utter control of his situation in some dreadfully tough conditions of torrential rain and high winds. To understand how hard it was, look at some of the comments from other players in the field:

Jordan Spieth: “Some of the shots we faced today are kind of hard to describe”. Lee Westwood: “Driving was hard. It was hard to get in the fairways. Iron shots, hard to control the distances. Putting was really tricky. You find yourself giving it a couple of foot for the breeze and then don’t move, and on the next it takes it sideways”. Rickie Fowler: “This is probably one of the hardest tests as far as with this condition, just because this golf course, how penal it is on both sides of the fairways”.

In these conditions, Lowry shot a one-over-par 72, only bettered by Tony Finau in the last eight groups. Lowry will have better ball-striking days, in fact closest competitor Tommy Fleetwood hit the ball better than him on Sunday, but the way he managed his round was exceptional, putting the ball in the right places and holing the putts that mattered. Fleetwood never got within two shots of the lead, and a dreaded double or triple bogey, which could have derailed his round, was never in play.

“Lowry’s rhythm hasn’t wavered once, it’s beautiful,” renowned coach David Leadbetter said of his performance. And as a result, he created a beautiful scene on 18, with scores of fans running up to catch a view of the new champion golfer of the year. Shane Lowry, Open Champion in Portrush. Might take some time to sink in.