Sport Golf

Thursday 22 August 2019

Tommy Conlon: 'Shane Lowry is very much the Everyman who tips into the pub for a few on the way home from work'

Shane Lowry and his wife Wendy and Grandmother Emily Scanlon at his homecoming in Clara Co Offaly.
Pic Steve Humphreys
23rd July 2019
Shane Lowry and his wife Wendy and Grandmother Emily Scanlon at his homecoming in Clara Co Offaly. Pic Steve Humphreys 23rd July 2019
Shane Lowry in The Boar's Head in Dublin. Photo: Aoife Moore/PA Wire

Tommy Conlon

If it's Wednesday it must be The Saddler's Inn below in Kilbeggan, down the main street, next door to John Whelan newsagent and grocer.

Sure enough, there was Lowry sitting at the bar in the corner: back to the wall, arm on the counter, pint of plain in front of him, like a weary worker who'd just finished his shift on the bog for Bord na Móna.

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Except, of course, he had the silver tassie perched beside his glass: the Claret Jug, the goblet of fire, now up there with the Derrynaflan Chalice as the most important antique vessel ever to surface in the Irish midlands.

Side by side, pint and Jug, they were so close together it looked as if he didn't know which of them to pick up next. Will I have another slug, or will I hoist this baby again, just for old times' sake? Maybe he was taking it in turns. Maybe there was a whiskey chaser in the Jug. In any event, one hopes it wasn't a desperate dilemma for the man.

The photo was posted on social media by the Kilbeggan Shamrocks GAA club. Lowry is gazing straight at the camera. And it must be said he looks serenely stocious, transcendentally fluthered, beatifically banjo'd.

On Sunday evening he'd been crowned Open champion. Monday was the first day of the rest of his life. For new beginnings he sought familiar surrounds, The Boar's Head in Dublin, scene of many a triumphant visitation from All-Ireland champions and a house to which Lowry had long dreamed of returning with a Major trophy. On Tuesday it was back to the bosom of family and community in his native Clara. Offaly hadn't seen the likes of it since the days of Johnny Pilkington and Billy Dooley.

The festival of joy reflected the enormity of the achievement, for this was a feat with global prestige. An ordinary buck from an ordinary Irish town had won one of the greatest prizes in world sport.

He couldn't seem to get his head around it, like it wasn't supposed to happen to the likes of him, even though he'd made it happen with his own two blessed hands. If ever there was a case of something momentous needing time to sink in, this was it. Last week was too soon and the reality of it was too large. It couldn't be processed in a mere couple of days. It will take months, one imagines, maybe even years, before his body and soul fully absorbs the tremors of this most sublime personal earthquake.

Maybe he couldn't quite get his head around it because he knows what it takes in terms of talent, dedication and complexity.

The rest of us might know at some abstract level that it is a monumentally difficult thing to do. He lives this difficulty; he has lived it for the last ten years; he lives it every day of his working life. To make the rank of professional golfer is itself a rare achievement. But to win The Open? Maybe only he and his fellow pros can truly comprehend the magnitude.

So, when the country turns out to welcome home a Shane Lowry, or an Olympic hero, we are celebrating the victory rather than the mechanics of the achievement. The How gets swamped in the happiness. It gets lost because we can't hope to understand how they did it.

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There is always this chasm between joy and knowledge, between admiring what they've done and appreciating how they did it. And yet for the practitioners themselves, everything they do every day is about the skill, the technique, the stats, the angles, the analysis, the self-improvement.

As Lowry emerged into contention on day one at Royal Portrush, the crowds started to mobilise behind him. They cheered raucously, he concentrated intensely on every shot.

On the 12th hole he executed a beauty out of heavy rough to set him up for birdie. The gallery roared as the ball materialised out of the air and onto the green. But for the player it was a puzzle that had to be cracked in concert with his caddie, Bo Martin. They were the mathematicians at the blackboard with the chalk in their hands.

"Yeah, I had a big clump of grass behind me," he told Sky TV as he reviewed his round that Thursday evening, "so I had to play the ball way back in my stance and just kind of chase it forward and I was just trying to get it to 20 feet (of the flag)."

On 17 he is in a meadow of rough. "I got lucky here, I got a drop from a rabbit hole and I was just trying to get it down in front of the green and lucky it got the shooting bounce cos I missed the bunker then and actually nearly holed the putt for birdie."

Or his amazing second shot on the 10th on Saturday: "I was just trying to pitch a seven iron and chase it up the green and the green bowls in nicely there and it just missed the heavy rough and obviously went down (towards the pin)."

Naturally and unavoidably, this lifetime of learning, this world-class shot-making, got buried in the delirium unleashed by his triumph. And if anything it was buried still further beneath the tidal wave of goodwill for Lowry the person as distinct from Lowry the golfer. The outpouring of pure affection and fondness for him swept everything in its wake.

He is very much the Everyman who tips into the pub for a few on the way home from work. But this is the Everyman who is pure, aristocratic elite with a golf club in his hands and a ball at his feet.

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