Few successes sum up golf’s ability to throw up contrasting fortunes and emotions more clearly than Shane Lowry’s stunning win in The 148th Open.
Lowry was simply unstoppable at Royal Portrush in 2019 as he performed outstandingly to triumph by six strokes and spark jubilant celebrations.
Yet the Irishman was certainly not among the pre-tournament favourites considering his past record in the Championship, which featured four missed cuts in succession prior to his victory.
The contrast between Lowry’s Open experiences in 2018 and 2019, in particular, could hardly be more stark.
At Carnoustie in The 147th Open, he not only failed to make the weekend, but also split with his long-term caddie, Dermot Byrne, in hasty fashion after the opening round.
“I have so many regrets from that week,” said Lowry in his Chronicles of a Champion Golfer film. “Myself and Dermot had an unbelievable run, we had been very successful together, we had won big tournaments and he was a very good friend of mine. This is why it was harder than anything I'd ever done.
“We had a bit of a tiff after the first round and I pulled the plug that Thursday night. I went off into the car and I put back the seat in the car and I just laid there and I cried for a few minutes.
“I messed up there because I really feel like we should have finished out the week.”
At that point, Lowry could surely not have imagined what was to follow at the next Open.
Enormous crowds greeted the Championship’s return to Royal Portrush and Northern Ireland after a 68-year wait, with the vast majority of those in attendance hoping to cheer a winner from the island of Ireland.
"I'll never forget driving down (on day one),” said Lowry. “It must have been like 6:15am, because it was just before Darren (Clarke) hit the first tee shot. And I'll never forget the crowds.
"Thursday morning was probably the most nervous I've ever been on the first tee of a tournament, ever. I knew everybody had tickets for the weekend, so the first thing you don't want to do is go and miss the cut.”
Lowry need not have worried about failing to reach the final two rounds on this occasion. A four-under 67 left him second at the end of the opening day and he returned the same score on Friday to share the lead with J.B. Holmes.
Rather than buckle under the increased expectations he was now facing, Lowry went on to put together the greatest round of his life. A sensational 63 broke the course record following Portrush’s remodelling in 2016 and lifted him four clear at the top of the leaderboard with the lowest 54-hole total in Open history.
“I knew it was going to be Irish people out there in their droves on Saturday. I was ready for it,” said Lowry.
“I got down on to the tee and I'm looking around, the crowd are going mental. I’m just taking it all in, like ‘this is incredible’.
“My name was announced and the crowd kept on cheering. The ball's in the ground and I'm ready to go and they're still cheering. It was a little bit off-putting, if anything. I just tried to hit the best shot I could. To be honest, I just tried to keep it between the white posts!
“When I get in between the ropes, that's where I'm at my best. Little did I know it was going to be one of the most special days I've ever had on the golf course.”
However, while the third round brought nothing but enjoyment for Lowry, he soon realised a much more stressful experience lay ahead. The Irishman was looking to hold on to a four-shot lead three years on from losing the same advantage in the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
“I hadn't won anything, but I had so much to lose,” he explained. “I said one thing to my coach on Sunday morning. I said to him 'there's no in between today - it's either gonna be one of the best days of my life or one of my worst'.
“People say to you to go and enjoy it, 'you're in a great place, enjoy the final round'. Don't be stupid, I'm not gonna enjoy it. It's gonna be horrible!
“I got up, I barely had breakfast, I didn't have lunch. I genuinely think if I didn't win on that Sunday I still wouldn't be over it. It took me a while to get over Oakmont, but this was a whole bigger deal than Oakmont. The first tee on Sunday was probably one of the hardest places I've ever been.”
Lowry’s nerves were heightened as he struggled on Portrush’s opening hole. As he readied himself for a seven-foot bogey putt, his nearest rival, Tommy Fleetwood, had a presentable birdie chance.
“If Tommy holes that and I miss, all of a sudden I'm one ahead,” said Lowry. “Fifteen minutes earlier I was four ahead.
“And Tommy missed his putt and I holed mine. I lost a shot but I went to the tee feeling like I'd gained a shot.”
Lowry’s lead was never less than three thereafter and he was finally able to start enjoying the moment after birdieing the 15th to move six clear with three to play.
“I think when you see the emotion I show after holing that putt, that's where I must have felt that was it, that was the tournament over,” he acknowledged.
“I didn't fully let myself believe it was over until I hit my tee shot on 17.”
As he walked up the final hole safe in the knowledge the Championship was his, Lowry reflected on a remarkable turnaround.
“I could not believe that was happening to me,” he said. “Twelve months previous I was lying in the car crying to myself.”
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