Lowry played to his Max in memorable Open victory
By Gerry Buckley
This sports-mad columnist grew up fascinated by countless sporting tales and achievements. One that had a particular resonance was the staging of arguably the world’s biggest golf tournament, the (British) Open, on the island of Ireland for the one and only time back in 1951.
Growing up in the 1960s, when Americans generally dominated the annual golfing treat which I saw on grainy black and white television, I assumed that Max Faulkner defeated all the big names in world golf in his one and only Major win that year. Of course, long-haul flights were a rarity in the 1950s and a Google check shows that no Yanks featured 68 years ago when the colourful Englishman won £300 for a three under par total for his four rounds at Royal Portrush, which was played from Wednesday July 4 to Friday July 6, with the last day incorporating the final two rounds.
The world is a totally different place in 2019 and yours truly yearned to be present at the second Open to be staged away from mainland UK. However, financial constraints dictated otherwise…until a magical phone call around 10am last Friday from the Irish Independent informed me I had won a trip for two to the huge event, incorporating three nights in a four star hotel and priceless passes for the Saturday and Sunday. Garreth Cooke from the Links Golf Ireland team was the contact. And what a superbly organised trip he and his able assistant Nikki Wan put up for this starry-eyed sexagenarian sports nut.
The pre-tournament hope of all Irish people, north and south, was that a home player could win and thereby join Fred Daly, Padraig Harrington (twice), Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy in the most prestigious roll of honour of all. Of course, the last three names were still contending in 2019 with McIlroy expected to launch a massive charge. As it transpired, the very opposite happened and his dreadful – and careless – 79 on Thursday ended the dream. Despite an admirable second round the Holywood man missed the cut, a scenario likely to haunt the 30-year-old for quite some time. For their part, Clarke and Harrington are both way past their once-brilliant best.
However, up stepped Clara’s finest Shane Lowry to lead the Irish charge. And how he led it! The son of Brendan, a former Offaly great and later a progressive Westmeath senior manager from 1997 to 2000 (when it seems young Shane often made the short trip with his father to oversee Lake County training and matches), the 32-year-old was superb from start to finish, especially in his breath-taking 63 on the Saturday, the start of which I was honoured to witness in lovely weather from just a matter of yards away.
In truth, the majesty of his performance in round three all but meant a somewhat anti-climatic Sunday in often unpleasant weather, as Lowry demolished the field with a six-shot margin over second-placed Tommy Fleetwood. Indeed, to put Lowry’s performance in perspective, I watched JB Holmes tee off on level terms (minus 8) with the champion-elect on Saturday afternoon. Accordingly, it was quite sad to see the American (who bears some physical resemblances to Lowry) trudge in on Sunday evening at plus 6, a whopping 21 shots behind the Clara man, who earned $1.935 million (do the calculations yourself!) for his troubles.
However, the reality is that Lowry’s win sets him up financially for life. And good luck to him. It is no secret that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, unlike many well-heeled pros, and his moving tribute to his parents during the Claret Jug presentation ceremony, acknowledging the sacrifices they made to get him to the top of his sport, can be backed up by countless stories. I, for one, am factually aware of tales of his father working incredibly hard to ensure that his gifted son’s talents were maximised. No right-thinking person would dream of begrudging Shane Lowry his hard-earned status at the pinnacle of world golf, a decade since we all sat up and took note as he won the Irish Open as an amateur in miserable conditions in Baltray.
While, of course, Lowry represented the Republic of Ireland last week and, ironically, the tricolour was one of the most visible flags on the 18th, a plethora of Offaly people attended. I could see many foreigners trying to make phonetic sense of Uibh Fhaili on jerseys, while I imagine they assumed that the colours were Irish rather than the Faithful County. It was heart-lifting to see the Irish flag so prominent in a part of Northern Ireland where Union Jacks abound and road signs for the likes of nearby Greysteel conjure up horrendous memories of the worst of Troubles. The tournament was superbly organised in every detail with friendly faces and voices abounding, and neither sight nor sound of the galling Yanks who shout “in the hole” from most drives on par 5s! It will not be 68 years before Portrush hosts its third Open Championship.
Inter-county rivalry is put aside in international events, but I could not resist taunting a Westmeath-based Offaly man whom I met with the quip that “Offaly hurlers should give Lowry a place and ye could win the Christy Ring Cup next year”! The new Open champion had a particular line in a prominent piece a few years back which didn’t go down well in the Lake County from where financial and moral support came aplenty in his early days on the dog-eat-dog pro circuit. We can only assume it was tongue-in-cheek. Can’t we?
And my favourite story of the weekend? A Dubliner who shared a table at coffee with me recounted the tale of McIlroy spending some time in Lowry’s house some years back and the latter’s granny deflating his ego by innocently asking him to “please go down to the local shop to buy me a pint of milk because Shane gets mobbed when he goes down”!
I imagine there was stronger stuff than milk drank in Clara last Sunday night…