One year after The Open drove him to tears, Shane Lowry conquered the best in the world to win at Royal Portrush
By Will Gray
One year ago at The Open, with his game a mess and his chances burnt to a crisp by the firm fairways of Carnoustie, Shane Lowry hopped in his car and allowed the moment to overtake him.
It was, at the time, an understandable reaction to another blown chance on a big stage. Once a staple inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, once extolled for his remarkable European Tour win as an amateur, Lowry’s game had slipped. He was down to 92nd in the world, a precarious position from which major championship invites are no longer guaranteed.
“I sat in the car park in Carnoustie on Thursday, almost a year ago right to this week, and I cried,” Lowry said. “Golf wasn’t my friend at the time. It was something that had become very stressful, and it was weighing on me and I just didn’t like doing it.”
What a difference a year makes.
The 148th Open will be remembered as Lowry’s shining moment, the moment the Irishman steadied his nerve and lifted the Claret Jug after a six-shot victory that brought the locals at Royal Portrush to their feet.
Lowry’s healthy margin over runner-up Tommy Fleetwood will make this championship seem like a stress-free runaway when the ink dries on this particular chapter of the history books, but those who witnessed the final round can attest that it was anything but. The thought of coughing up a four-shot lead heading into the final round of a major was a little too real for Lowry, who had done just that three years ago at the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
So instead of getting his usual eight hours of sleep, Lowry got four, maybe five. He tossed, turned and pondered the tantalizing opportunity that lay ahead, fully cognizant of the fact that the tournament was now his to lose.
“Wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about all sorts. And I was awake at 6:30 this morning,” said Lowry, who didn’t tee off for another seven hours after that. “Look, I think I knew that I had to fight to the bitter end today, and that’s what helped me. And that’s where I struggled at Oakmont.”
There were admittedly a few bobbles from the very start. Lowry’s final scorecard included five bogeys on a day when everyone near the top of the leaderboard struggled in swirling winds and pelting rains. But a nervy opening hole left Lowry with 8 feet just to salvage bogey, a putt he holed and one that gave the Irish fans hoping to attend a coronation their first reason to cheer.
It dropped Lowry’s lead over Fleetwood to just three shots, but none of his pursuers would get any closer the rest of the day.
“It was very difficult out there, and he never lost control of himself,” Fleetwood said. “To lead by four at the start of the day and to keep that and to just control, he literally controlled the tournament from the start of today until the end. And that’s a very, very impressive thing to do.”
While his Irish Open victory a decade ago put him on the map, Lowry has spent much of his professional career in the shadows of greats that also came from the Emerald Isle. Of the last 12 editions of The Open, four were won by a player from the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. That includes Lowry’s countryman, Padraig Harrington, who went back-to-back in 2007 and 2008.
Lowry was just 20 years old when Harrington lifted the Claret Jug for the first time at Carnoustie, the same place where he shed those tears just 12 months ago. He used to look with envy at the trophy that one of his idols kept on his kitchen table for a two-year stretch.
Sunday the roles were reversed, as Harrington joined the large throng of well-wishers ready to greet a euphoric Lowry after he closed out the biggest week of his career.
“I used to curse them an awful lot in the past, because that’s all anybody wanted to know about in Ireland because they were winning so many majors,” Lowry said. “’When are you going to win one?’ Winning regular events wasn’t good enough for anyone."
“I suppose I didn't even know going out this morning if I was good enough to win a major. ” shane lowry
The road that led Lowry from four straight missed cuts in The Open to the title of Champion Golfer of the Year was hardly a straight path. It featured a caddie change to Bo Martin and a reinvigorated investment in his mental approach with coach Neil Manchip. It included an added sense of stability alongside his wife, Wendy, and daughter, Iris.
There was the victory this year in Abu Dhabi, a runner-up finish last month in Canada and a generally upward trend in the rankings. But those were merely a prelude for what was to come this week at Portrush, where the Irishman put an isle on his broad shoulders and closed out a performance that will quickly become the stuff of legend.
Twelve months after The Open drove him to tears, Lowry left Portrush with chants of his name ringing in his ears and his hands around the Claret Jug, this time emotional for all the right reasons.
“I suppose I didn't even know going out this morning if I was good enough to win a major," Lowry said. "I just went out there and tried to give it my best. And look, I'm here now, a major champion. I can't believe I'm saying it, to be honest."