Sunday 18 August 2019

Hometown hero Shane is gunning for Open glory

Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush, Co Antrim, yesterday. Picture: Sportsfile
Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush, Co Antrim, yesterday. Picture: Sportsfile
Esker Hills club captain Paul Rabbette with club manager Ray Molloy. Photos: Brendan Moran and Steve Humphreys
Fiona Geoghegan watching the action. Photos: Brendan Moran and Steve Humphreys
Lowry’s grand-uncle Thomas Newman at Esker Hills. Photos: Brendan Moran and Steve Humphreys

Alan O'Keeffe in Clara, Co Offaly

Loud cheers and applause shook the clubhouse at Shane Lowry's own Esker Hills Golf Club in Co Offaly last night as he sealed his dominance at the British Open.

As he sunk the ball on the 18th hole for a four-shot lead heading into the final day, his home supporters shouted with joy.

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Club captain Paul Rabbette told the Sunday Independent: "This is a tremendous feeling of absolute pride for us all. He showed amazing skill today and his excellent temperament shows he has that X-factor that the other players don't seem to have. He won't be found wanting on the last day. The whole community is behind him."

While Lowry had a battalion of Irish supporters cheering him in the crowds in Portrush yesterday, an army of loyal followers in his native Clara kept track of his every move on television and social media.

Mr Rabbette said his brilliant opening days at the Open had caused great excitement locally.

"His great play has been fantastic to watch. I can hardly believe the great start he got. Big numbers are travelling up for the last day. There are shades of Baltray in 2009 when huge numbers travelled to see him win the Irish Open as an amateur," he said.

He remembers playing with Shane when he broke the Esker Hills course record when Shane was just 18 in 2005 - a record that still stands and the scorecard has a place of honour in the members' bar.

Shane's grand-uncle Thomas Newman (68) said: "I am looking forward to going up to Portrush tomorrow. We're all really proud of him."

Mr Newman, a brother of Shane's grandmother Emily Scanlon, said he has not been too surprised at Shane's success.

"He never really wanted to go to school. As a boy, he would be here at the club playing at 8.30am and he'd be here playing all day till 5.30pm. He has given a lot to golf."

Club manager Ray Molloy said: "If he wins the British Open, we'll be celebrating for seven days in Clara. The British Open is the Olympics of world golf so the support for him is huge. I was in Portrush on Thursday and the amount of people cheering for him from all over Ireland and the world was just amazing."

As a teenage player in the club, members thought he would one day be a top Midlands golfer but they had no idea he would enter the world's Top 20 golfers in 19th place in 2015, Mr Molloy said. Club receptionist Caroline Guinan said even as a boy, Shane stood out. Now he can win €1m in Abu Dhabi in January and still remain "down to earth and happy go lucky".

Shane's lifelong friend Colin Fitzpatrick (30), a barman in Baggot's pub, has travelled far and wide to support him. "I'm heading back to Portrush tonight. Shane always stood out as a great player even when we played pitch and putt together as children in Clara.

"He really wants to win the British Open. It's the one he would most like to win. Shane is more hardworking than people think and he is very hard on himself.

"He is always focused on winning even when we are playing golf with a few friends.

"I was stuck on a potato farm in the middle of nowhere in Australia in 2015 when he won the World Golf Championship in Ohio. I was glad to be with him when he was playing in Turkey last year," he said.

Although Baggot's was hosting a 30th birthday party for Shane's cousin Karen last night, all the television sets were showing the action from Portrush.

When Lowry is playing big tournaments in the US, the Esker Hills clubhouse is crowded with supporters.

A smaller crowd in the clubhouse yesterday was proof that nearly all golfers in Clara were already in Portrush cheering him on in person, said Adrian O'Reilly (47). "Half of Clara is in Portrush today. And that includes 90pc of all golfers in Clara," he said.

"Shane is brilliant for golfing. The numbers of young people playing golf locally is through the roof."

Speaking to reporters in Portrush last night, Shane Lowry said: "I know I have a tough 24 hours ahead of me but, you know what? There is nowhere I would rather be. I've got a four-shot lead in an Open championship, in Ireland. [It] is going be incredible no matter what happens."

He said that he is especially looking forward to being greeted by his two-year-old daughter, Iris, on the 18th green.

"No matter what I shoot tomorrow, my two-year-old will be there waiting for me."

Sunday Independent

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