Shane Lowry had the whole of Ireland in tears of joy as he became an Open champion on home soil – 12 months after he’d sat in the Carnoustie car park during the same event and cried due to his golf having become “very stressful”.
The 32-year-old Offaly man overcame a shaky start in the final round to record a six-shot success at Royal Portrush, joining Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy on an impressive list of Irish major winners over the past 12 years. Lowry described his success in the first Open Championship to be staged on Irish soil in 68 years as a “surreal experience” after enjoying a victory walk up the 18th hole to a chorus of “Ole, Ole, Ole” from the home fans in a sell-out crowd.
The victory came on the back of four successive missed cuts in the Claret Jug event for Lowry, who was so disappointed about his game at the time that he sacked his caddie after the opening round en route to an early exit at Carnoustie last year.
“That just shows how fickle golf is,” he said. “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.
“I sat in the car park in Carnoustie on Thursday, almost a year ago right to this week, and I cried. Golf wasn’t my friend at the time.
“It was something that became very stressful and it was weighing on me and I just didn’t like doing it. What a difference a year makes, I suppose.”
Even though the tee times had been brought forward, the final round was played in appalling conditions, but that didn’t dampen the joy of the home fans as they cheered Lowry every step of the way as he recorded the biggest winning margin in the event since Louis Oosthuizen’s seven-shot victory at St Andrews in 2010.
“I’m feeling unbelievably calm, to be honest,” said Lowry as he gazed at the Claret Jug beside him, having become the fifth Irish player to claim the prize after Fred Daly, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy. “It’s not going to sink in for a couple of days, is it? It’s just incredible to be sitting here with a trophy in front of me. Look at the names on it.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening. I thought about it all day, but I didn’t really let myself think about it until I hit my tee shot on 17. As soon as I hit that tee shot, I knew that I couldn’t really lose a ball from there.”
Lowry started out with a four-shot lead, having squandered the same cushion when he blew a golden chance of victory in the 2016 US Open at Oakmont.
A “ropey” opening tee shot on this occasion wasn’t what the doctor ordered and you could hear a collective sigh of relief when a potential three-shot swing in favour of playing partner and eventual runner-up Tommy Fleetwood only ended in his lead being trimmed by one. “That settled me an awful lot,” admitted the new Champion Golfer of the Year.
His wife, Wendy, and two-year-old daughter, Iris, were waiting at the back of the green after he closed with a 72 for a 15-under-par 269 total. So, too, were Harrington and McDowell.
“I tried to soak it in as much as I could,” said Lowry of walking up the 18th with a smile as wide as the Irish Sea. “But it was hard to because it’s a very surreal experience going down there. I welled up when I saw my family and it was nice, very nice of Paddy and G-Mac to be standing on the back of the tee for me. And Gary Murphy was there as well, who is a good friend of mine and was great to me when I started out on Tour.”
It was the second time in just over a year that Fleetwood had finished second in a major, having also ended up as the closest challenger to Brooks Koepka in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills last season. “I’m trending in the right way,” said the Englishman. “I just hope my time will come eventually.
“That’s the first time I’ve played in the last group of a major on a Sunday. And for four rounds of golf I was the second-best player in the event, which is a great achievement. You have to look at it like that. I’m sure in a few hours or a couple of days I might see that, get back on it and start again.”
Koepka, who finished in a tie for fourth with Lee Westwood on six-under, was so unhappy with the slow play of his playing partner, JB Holmes, that he tried to let the walking rules official know of his displeasure by pointing to an imaginary watch on his wrist.
“He had a rough day,” said the world No 1 of his fellow American crashing to a closing 87 that included a triple-bogey and four double-bogeys. “But JB is a slow player.
“What I don’t understand is when it’s your turn to hit, your glove is not on, then you start thinking about it, that’s where the problem lies.”