This one’s for you, Shane Lowry said holding aloft the Claret Jug. You knew what he meant. This was a moment not just for the champion golfer of the year, not just for the heaving amphitheatre framing him, but the whole of Ireland.
Lowry’s name, or rather a version of it set to the tune of that familiar Ryder Cup anthem echoed around Royal Portrush. “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Shano, Shano.”
The walk up the 18th to the acclaim of an Open crowd is the dreamscape that fires the imagination of all who take up the game. To do so as an Irishman at a place once rendered untouchable on the Open rota by the social and political upheaval of Northern Ireland’s tragic past ramped up the emotions a thousand fold.
In truth, until Lowry crested the final fairway, his outline gaining in scale as he left the bordering long grass behind, there had been little to seize the heart on the final day. This was not the Sunday of Wimbledon or Lord’s. There would be no cliff-edge denouement here. Neither Lowry nor the weather would allow it. Lowry was too heavily defended by a four-shot lead at the start of the day to permit a challenge and the conditions too bad to let the field get close.
And so it was that the 148th Open petered out in an emphatic six-shot victory over Tommy Fleetwood, the drama coming in a rush only at the end as Lowry closed out in front of a wildly engaged crowd and an extended family growing in number, it seemed, by the second. Up went the arms when the final putt dropped. On to the green came wife Wendy offering up two-year-old Iris to a gleeful dad. Thank you, said the greenside photographers snapping away for the image that would go around the world.
The winner’s speech in fading light seems an unfair burden to impose, though one any player would accept as the price of victory. Lowry did a decent job and was still breathless when he offered himself to the world’s media for questions. “It's just incredible to be sitting here with a trophy in front of me. Look at the names on it. I just can't believe,” he said.
“I couldn't believe that it was me [on the course]. I couldn't believe it was happening. 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."
The words came in an unconscious flow, processing a whirl of emotions as he talked. “It was just incredible to walk down 18. The crowd is going wild. Singing ‘ole, ole. I spotted my family all at the back of the green. To be honest, I welled up a little bit and Bo [Martin, caddie] told me to catch a hold of myself, I still have to hit a shot. Thankfully I hit a decent shot in there and two-putted."
For the first three days the world’s best golfers had been playing holiday golf on a lovely course by the sea; no wind, soft greens, fish in a barrel. On the fourth they were playing the Open on a pitiless links track battered in mid afternoon by vicious Atlantic squalls. The question was not if shots might be shipped to par but how many, a day when the leader would drop a shot at one hole and extend his lead.
The first hole was a beast. Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, JB Holmes all doubled it. Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood bogeyed. After an ugly pull-hook Lowry was lucky not to go out of bounds. His second hit the face of the greenside bunker and rolled back in. He was delighted with a bogey from there. Fleetwood was disappointed not to birdie from eight feet. Still, the lead was cut to three.
There was a second birdie miss at two, another at four and an eagle putt from eight feet at the fifth that did not drop. These were the chances Fleetwood simply had to take to apply the pressure that might disrupt Lowry even a little. A dropped shot at the third restored Lowry’s lead to four and three birdies in four holes extended it to six after seven, the equivalent of a tranquiliser in the vein of the contest.
In the worst of the weather the players were shaping like 18-handicappers in Sunday medal mode, errant off the tee, scrambling like the blazes in the boondocks and taking three shots to reach the greens. Bogeys at the eighth and ninth took Lowry back to where he started at 16 under. Still, turning for home with a five stroke lead was hardly heartbreak.
The gap was briefly down to four after 12 holes before easing out to five again at the 14th, where Lowry benefitted despite his bogey. Fleetwood, poor chap, let two go there and when Lowry birdied the 15th he was six behind with three to play. The par-3 16th is some booby trap but nothing like the gorgon it would need to be to swallow Lowry whole. In the event he took his par and could have got home playing only with his putter from there.
“I didn't even know going out this morning if I was good enough to win a major. I knew I was able to put a few days together. I knew I was able to play the golf course. I just went out there and tried to give my best. And look, I'm here now, a major champion.”