The Irishman has come a long way from crying in his car after a missed cut at Carnoustie. Mark Townsend reflects on how Royal Portrush got the champion it deserved
There will always be anomalies – Shane Lowry had missed his last four Open cuts – but now it makes perfect sense. Lowry is made for this championship and this is precisely what you want from your Open champion. This is who you want coming back until they turn 60, this is who you want to listen to and this is who you want to watch.
Lowry’s not your usual bomb-and-gouge merchant. The 32-year-old is a master of his shot-shaping craft and someone who has such an incredible sense of where their ball is going to end up and what it requires to get it there.
On Saturday, he led the field a merry dance with his course-record 63, the following day he chiselled out a quite brilliant six-shot victory. Of the last 10 groups only Tony Finau managed to score better than him and none of them had to sleep, or not as it turned out, on a four-shot lead.
“I slept for about four or five hours last night, and I normally throw a good eight, 10 hours at it,” said Lowry afterwards in his press conference.
One of Lowry’s greatest skills is his honesty. He doesn’t hide behind talk of processes and preparation, instead he’s happy to talk of what could go wrong.
“My caddie was unbelievable. He kept on my back all day, kept talking to me, he kept in my ear. I kept on telling him how nervous I was, how scared I was, how much I didn’t want to mess it up, all I could think about was walking down 18 with a four or five-shot lead. And lucky I got to do that.”
Wind the clock back a year to Carnoustie and Lowry’s golf and brain were in very different places. He and his caddie of nine years, Dermot Byrne, parted company after the first round, his coach Neil Manchip stepped in for the Friday, and he was packing his bags before the weekend again.
“That just shows how fickle golf is. Golf is a weird sport and you never know what’s around the corner. 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. What a difference a year makes.”
If things did look a bit more promising this year it is to do with some amateur heroics in this particular corner of County Antrim. Lowry has a bit of previous with Portrush having lost in the final of The North in 2007 before beating Andrew Morris in the final the following year. But again, rather than recalling the victory with some anodyne quote, he instead chose a different route.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about him all week, because he shanked his tee shot out of bounds on the 1st. That’s all I could think about on the 1st hole. He’s going to kill me for that.”
Another of Lowry’s greatest attributes is his work around the greens. On a day like this, the biggest day of your golfing life, it’s more than a little reassuring to be able to rely on a short game like his. According to many he’s the best in the business.
Go to any tournament that he and Padraig Harrington are both involved in and you’ll find the pair of them taking each other on with a collection of chipping challenges. More often than not Lowry will emerge as the winner.
It’s all so natural and unfussy. At the 7th he turned his approach into a tap-in birdie, at the 10th there was a key up and down to stop it becoming three straight bogeys and at 13, when the lead was still four, he saved par from sand to keep things pointing in the right direction.
Harrington keeps a Claret Jug on his kitchen table, now Lowry plans to do the same. His big goal for next year is to be on the plane to Whistling Straits.
And like his great friend this was a grinder’s Open win. The final margin might have been six but this was a battle with himself, the chasing pack for two days and the elements. At times the rain was biblical, a particularly horrific period which coincided with those back-to-back bogeys at 8 and 9, and the winds were swirling everywhere but that was only part of it.
This was a dogfight of a final day that saw Rickie Fowler and JB Holmes drive it out of bounds at the 1st, the unflappable Brooks Koepka bogey his first four holes and Justin Rose go out in 41 shots. The Englishman only just broke 80, Holmes was round in 87.
We’ve heard a lot this year about Rory McIlroy’s focus on perspective, Lowry now has it in bundles. The elephant always in Lowry’s room is what happened at Oakmont three years ago when that four-shot lead went south and Dustin Johnson was crowned the US Open champion in one of the oddest finishes in major history.
After Saturday’s 63 Lowry’s lead was, once again, four shots.
Now though the 32-year-old is married and a dad to a two-year-old and Oakmont can now be talked about as part of the bigger learning curve.
“I think I knew that I had to fight to the bitter end today, and that’s what helped me. And that’s where I struggled in Oakmont. I always said after Oakmont, if I could have got the last four holes back, I’d give anything to be standing on the 14th fairway again.
“I let myself think about it on 17, enjoy it, but you’re still hitting shots. Links golf, bunkers, rough, all sorts can happen out there. I let myself really, really enjoy it going down 18. But before that I was really just fighting until the end.”