Wednesday 21 August 2019

'Almost a year ago I sat in the car park at Carnoustie and cried'

Lowry 'fights through the bad times' and emerges as a Major winner as he clinically closes out Open victory

Shane Lowry embraces his wife Wendy and daughter Iris after winning the Open Championship by six strokes. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Lowry embraces his wife Wendy and daughter Iris after winning the Open Championship by six strokes. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Shane Lowry may not have a Rudyard Kipling anthology on his bedside table, but he has family and friends and they were the keys to turning a big 'If' into a resounding 'Yes' on the gnarled links of Royal Portrush.

Fifty years after man first set foot on the moon, the often emotional Offaly man took not just a small step in his career, but a giant leap into another world by becoming Irish golf's 11th Major winner.

He banked another $1.9 million yesterday and will make 10 times that amount in endorsements and bonuses, especially now that his contract with his club and ball supplier Srixon is due for renewal at the end of this year.

But rather than talking about winning more Majors and adding to his legend and his burgeoning bank balance, for now Lowry spoke only of backing up yesterday's monumental achievement by making Pádraig Harrington's Ryder Cup team next year.

Lowry was standing on the shoulders, not of giants, but friends and family, buoyed by years of support and good advice.

He'd learnt the hard way and listened to wily Irish pros who took him under their collective wings as he made his way on Tour as a raw 22-year-old in the weeks and months after his incredible Irish Open win at Baltray a decade ago.

Shane Lowry’s father Brendan holds up the Claret Jug on the 18th green at Royal Portrush. Photo: Reuters
Shane Lowry’s father Brendan holds up the Claret Jug on the 18th green at Royal Portrush. Photo: Reuters

Players like Gary Murphy, Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane made him feel welcome on the circuit and with the support of his family and friends, the calming presence of coach Neil Manchip and the sage counsel of his management team, he washed away all his pain in four magical rounds.

When it came to taking that giant step and winning a Major, there is no doubt that three-time Major winner Harrington - quickly followed by Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke - taught him much about dealing with golf's greatest challenge.

The twin imposters of success and failure are the bane of every tour golfer's life and it's taken Lowry a decade of pain and suffering, punctuated with brief moments of euphoria, to realise what Harrington meant when he often quoted that famous Kipling line: "If you can dream and not make dreams your master; If you can think and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster; And treat those two impostors just the same... Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it."

Just 12 months ago, the new world No 17 Lowry sat in the car park at Carnoustie after opening with a 74 in The Open and cried bitter tears before going on to sack his loyal caddie and friend Dermot Byrne later that evening.

"That just shows how fickle golf is," Lowry said, his hand just inches from the Claret Jug that now bears his name. "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 had become very stressful and it was weighing on me and I just didn't like doing it. And, look, 12 months on - what a difference a year makes, I suppose!"

Lowry's father Brendan followed him every step of the way yesterday and while his son rapidly eclipsed his All-Ireland winning feats with Offaly in 1982, he was the proudest man in Antrim yesterday.

"I was always a bit too slow for the big ball - I knew where the goals were, but I was never good enough," Lowry said.

"I played football growing up, and football was obviously huge in my house. It was everything where I was from, the town we grew up in.

"I was in school, 500 kids, and I was the only person that played golf. That's kind of where we came from."

He may have dreamt of winning at Croke Park in his childhood, but those towering points from the wing were soon replaced by putts for The Open on the greens of Esker Hills.

Matching the likes of Harrington, McDowell, McIlroy and Clarke is a challenge for every Irish amateur and while Lowry was conflicted by their success, he realises now that it's an inspiration for future Major winners.

"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. 'When are you going to win one?' people would say. Winning regular events wasn't good enough for anyone!"

"We're very lucky, Irish golfers. People might say there's not enough Irish golfers on Tour, but look at the standard of Irish golfers we have.

"Rory McIlroy is one of the best players in the world, if not the best on his day. And G-Mac, I think, is getting his strut back. And the careers that Paddy and Darren and those guys have had is just incredible."

Overseas visitors have been keen to apply some symbolism to the return of The Open to Royal Portrush and the potential to add to the healing process in the wake of the Troubles.

But while Harrington agreed with those sentiments yesterday, he pointed to the democratic state of the game in Ireland as the real key to the rise of Irish golf to Major status.

"For Ireland, such as small place, it's our 10th Major (since 2007), and from a small country, we keep producing," Harrington said.

"If you become a top-class Irish golfer, you have got a great chance of winning world-class events.

"There are not many sports in Ireland where if you are the best in Ireland, you are going to be the best in the world or competing to be the best in the world.

"I am staying in Portstewart this week and if you drive from Portstewart to here, there's five golf courses. Little ones, not big championship courses.

"There's a par-three courses, a pitch and putt and a municipal course. Golf is for everyone over here…"

Lowry learned the game playing pitch and putt and it was that eight footer for bogey at the first hole that laid the foundation for his Major triumph.

"I was very stressed out and nervous today," Harrington said.

"The first hole, we will never know in truth what it meant. If Tommy holes his putt (for birdie), he feels good about himself.

"If Shane misses, he feels bad about himself. In matchplay, it was like he won the hole. From there on, Shane never put a foot wrong.

"It's great for Ireland, great for the community up here. The one thing we do in Ireland is we can run an event pretty well in terms of turning out and embracing it.

"We did that a couple of weeks ago with the Irish Open in Lahinch and this was the icing on the cake."

Irish Independent

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