Saturday 24 August 2019

Shane Lowry is right to revel in the celebrations before turning attention to the next big challenge

Shane Lowry inspects the Claret Jug on the 18th green. Photo: Reuters
Shane Lowry inspects the Claret Jug on the 18th green. Photo: Reuters

Brian Keogh

Shane Lowry ticked the first crucial box when it comes to dealing with Major championship glory on Sunday night. He celebrated into the small hours like a man who'd just won the world's biggest Major by six shots.

Still dressed in the clothes he wore as he marched up the 18th at Royal Portrush to roars of "Shano, Shano" and "Olé, olé, olé", he stood on a chair in 37 Dawson, the Dublin bar owned by pal Alan Clancy, and belted out 'The Fields of Athenry', a pint in his left hand, the Claret Jug raised aloft in the right.

Graeme McDowell. Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Graeme McDowell. Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

That his faithful caddie Brian 'Bo' Moran was still wearing his official Open accreditation badge said it all about where Lowry is right now.

He's not worrying what's next just yet but heeding Pádraig Harrington's advice to make sure you celebrate your wins to the hilt. Seven years after he won his third Major, Harrington ended a seven-year wait for another PGA Tour win when he captured the 2015 Honda Classic.

"I have learned that you don't win as often as you think you are going to win, so when it does come around just make sure you embrace it and have fun with it," Harrington said.

Lowry is a very different character to Harrington, who continued his implacable quest to improve after his run of Major successes and became an unwitting victim of his own high expectations.

New Zealand's Michael Campbell. Photo by Sean Meyers/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
New Zealand's Michael Campbell. Photo by Sean Meyers/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

It might seem unfair to wonder where Lowry will go from here, less than 48 hours after what many believe will go down in history as one of the greatest Open Championship performances of all time.

In terms of the nuts and bolts of his fifth tour victory, he's not only set for life financially, but he's also matched his career-high world ranking of 17th and soared to the top of the Race to Dubai standings.

Exemptions

He's exempt on the PGA Tour until the end of 2024 and the European Tour until 2029 and also claimed five-year exemptions into the Masters, the US Open, the PGA Championship and the Players Championship.

Sweetest of all, he can play in The Open until he turns 60 in 2047.

Many great players failed to win a Major and many players who did not have great careers claimed one moment of glory. Then some fall between both camps - great players who might have won far more.

Whether or not Lowry will become a multiple Major winner or join Roberto DeVicenzo, Tony Lema, Kel Nagle, Tom Weiskopf, Bob Charles or Justin Leonard on the list of players who lifted "only" the Claret Jug - as if that was small beer - remains to be seen.

When it comes to managing those post-Open expectations, Lowry did not seem overly concerned on Sunday night, when all his pre-round fears had proved unfounded and he held his dream in the palm of his hand and his friends emptied the Players' Lounge of beers.

"I am lucky I have a couple of friends who are Major champions, so I have a couple of people to lean on in Graeme, Pádraig and Rory," he told Golf Channel before leaving Royal Portrush behind a police escort, roaring 'woo hoo' out the window as the SUV sped off on the road to Dublin.

"So I can seek them out for a bit of advice if I ever need it. But one thing is certain; I am going to enjoy this one and deal with all that when it comes to it.

"It is obviously going to be a bit different when I go places now. Even when I go places at home, it is going to be different. But it is a good problem to have."

Lowry will be aware of what happened to New Zealander Michael Campbell, who had a two-shot lead heading into the final round of The Open at St Andrews in 1995, shot 76 to finish outside the play-off between Costantino Rocca and eventual champion John Daly but returned a decade later to snatch the US Open from Tiger Woods as a pre-qualifier.

Campbell compared winning a Major to reaching the summit of Mount Everest - exhilarating until you realise that the descent is even more treacherous than the climb to the top.

"Winning a Major had become my ultimate goal. Once you do it, what next? I suppose it's like climbing Everest. It took me two years - quite a torrid couple of years - to reset my goals... Nobody ever tells you how to get down."

Campbell's career eventually fizzled out, but he knows they can never take his moment of glory away, even if he would love to have won more than one Major title.

Lowry is fortunate to have good advisors around him in his management team, his caddie and especially his coach, Neil Manchip, who accompanied him on an early morning walk and chat alongside the River Bush in Bushmills on Sunday morning to ease his dread about the day ahead.

"We talked about all the possible scenarios that could happen," Manchip told Golf Channel on Sunday. "But the biggest thing was this: Just play the next shot as well as you can."

All Lowry can do now is stick to the mantra that carried him to victory on Sunday, put one foot in front of the other and continue his quest, which is to try and qualify for Pádraig Harrington's Ryder Cup team.

Having withdrawn from this week's WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis to continue his celebrations - at 17th in the FedEx Cup standings and not needing to reappear until the Playoffs start in Jersey three weeks' time - he has time now to reflect and make plans.

He admitted on Sunday that he had doubts, not that he lacked the quality to win a Major, but whether or not he could avoid the big mistakes that could rob him his place in history after the disappointment of Oakmont.

"I told him I was so scared about messing it up," he revealed of his riverside walk with Manchip. "I'd say I was more scared than having doubt in my head. I really, really wanted to win this one. I felt like it was my time to go and get it.

"The only thing that comes close was the Irish Open in Baltray just with a lot less people. All week, the crowds were unbelievable.

"To come up here to Portrush and play in an Open Championship is special. But my God, to win it, it is a dream come true. It really is."

Lowry's Major win has resonated far more deeply with the Irish public than those of achieved by McDowell in 2010 or McIlroy in 2011, 2012 and 2014 (twice), simply because of his boy-next-door quality, his honesty and that vulnerable streak that he makes no effort to hide.

Word from his management group is that the "Clara Jug" is on another plane entirely to McDowell's Pebble Beach success or McIlroy's eight-shot US PGA win at Kiawah Island in 2012.

When McIlroy won the US Open by eight strokes in 2011, McDowell famously said: "He's been bred for this moment. He has been dealing with the things I have dealt with this year since he turned pro. He's been groomed for stardom, and he will be able to handle the expectations and the pressures better than someone like myself."

When he looked back on 2011 and his poor start to the new year, McDowell regretted not taking a longer winter break.

That Lowry is managed by the same agent can only be a plus in terms of avoiding similar mistakes and resisting the temptation to cash in and damage their client's chances of making it to Whistling Straits, whatever route he chooses.

"I came into 2011 promising myself I wasn't going to be a victim of my own expectations and promised myself I wasn't going to try and emulate 2010," McDowell said. "But it doesn't matter how much you try to ignore something. It is just there.

"Perceptions of me had changed, and it wasn't hard for me to tell that. Things were different, things had changed, and I had to try and settle and get comfortable in that environment.

"Then you hit the panic button. You start trying too hard. I wasn't trying to prove anything. It is not about proving stuff. It was more about proving to myself that 2010 was no fluke, I suppose.

"I didn't have that consistency. I wasn't myself this year on the golf course for about six months. There is no doubt about that."

As for Lowry, his propensity to be hard on himself is a trait that he knows he must watch, but, for now, it's time to savour an immense achievement.

"What was it Gene Sarazen said?" Campbell asked a few years ago. "'You can spend all the dollars in your lifetime if you want, but a Major title you take to the grave with you'."

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