For an island that has seen its quite literal share of troubles over the last 50 years or so, leave it to golf to act as the catalyst for a united celebration.
Shane Lowry, of the Republic of Ireland, captured his first major title at The Open Championship Sunday. This year marked the first time since 1951 The Open returned to Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush, long considered one of the best golf courses in the world.
It was a celebrated decision, and for all the tears of sadness that flowed Friday afternoon with native son Rory McIlroy unable to make the cut, it was Lowry who turned the tears joyful by Sunday night.
McIlroy fired a spirited 65 on Friday to end up missing the cut by one, but it was Lowry who never waivered, never faltered despite horrific weather conditions for most of Sunday and captured his first major championship by six shots, finishing at 15-under for the week.
Lowry, somewhat unknown by the grander golf world, has had his moments as a world-beater. He’s primed to make a big leap from No. 33 in the world and has a World Golf Championship victory and four other European Tour wins to his credit. He finished T-8 at the PGA Championship earlier this year and was runner-up to McIlroy at the RBC Canadian Open in June.
He is also no stranger to having won big events on the Island. Ten years ago as an amateur he captured the Irish Open, and in a story relayed by Dan Hicks of NBC on the broadcast Sunday, Lowry’s mother Bridget wagered 50 euros on her son at 250-1 odds. The win paid off their rental house for the week, and a whole lot more as Lowry was about to embark on his professional career.
But this is The Open, and it’s a different animal. He had missed the cut the last four years at this major championship.
This week, however, there was some statistical serendipity for Lowry. The average age of Open Championship winners in the last 50 years is 32.4 years old, Lowry’s exact age.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 21, 2019
The coronation began Saturday after a record round of 63 — including a back-nine 30 — pushed him to a four-shot lead. The unfortunate thing about that, however, was that the last person to lose a four-shot lead after 54 holes at a major was Lowry himself, who did it at the 2016 U.S. Open.
"Oakmont was so long ago and I was a lot younger," said Lowry on Friday. "I feel like if I get the opportunity this week I’ll be better."
Better he was.
He had an appropriate preparatory session with his coach early in the week (they went to the local Bushmills Inn – adjacent to the whiskey distillery – and had a long chat), and just played very solid golf all week.
Lowry bettered the field average in key statistical categories including Greens in Regulation, Average Putts, and Driving Accuracy, and although he looked a little shaky on the first hole Sunday – a quick hook off the tee that led to a bogey – he got into a nice rhythm through the middle of his round while no one else could make a move.
Out of the final 10 golfers on the course Sunday, only Tony Finau – who finished third – managed to end up under par for the day.
Lowry shot a 1-over 72 Sunday but it was good enough. He beat runner-up Tommy Fleetwood by six, Finau by eight, and Lee Westwood and Brooks Koepka – who wrapped up the best major championship season this side of early-2000’s Tiger Woods – by nine.
He got to do the walk of a champion up the 18th fairway with a crowd running up behind him, as per tradition at The Open.
His wife and young daughter were there to greet him behind the 72nd green, but right there with them was Padraig Harrington – Ireland’s last major champion – and Graeme McDowell and Brooks Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott, who were high school golf teammates… in Northern Ireland.
Lowry wasn’t one of the triumvirate of McDowell, McIlroy, and Darren Clarke who spearheaded a lobbying campaign to have The Open come to Northern Ireland, but McDowell said on the broadcast Sunday if it wasn’t one of those three, they would want it to have been Lowry to lift the Claret Jug.
More than 237,000 people came out to Royal Portrush for this week’s Open Championship, a record number. There were fans from Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, America, Canada, and more.
An Irishman won the British Open in Northern Ireland, and people were united by golf to cheer on a lad who looks more like the jolly guy tending the bar than one who is going to be celebrating appropriately inside of one tonight.
"Everybody knows," Lowry said, "we’re all one country when it comes to golf."