Shane Lowry literally teed himself up for a tilt at glory with two spectacular “Saturday Specials” which proved pivotal in his greatest triumphs. Naturally, in hindsight, every shot of every round on every day of any tournament matters to a winner, but Saturday at Majors, and in a player’s home Open, can make or break a bid for the title. Thus, May 16, 2009 and July 20, 2019 are hugely significant to the Clara, County Offaly native’s coronation as an Irish golfing legend.
Just over ten years separated the dates, but the importance to Lowry of his performance on these respective “moving days” is immeasurable. No tournament can be won on a Saturday, but anyone can shoot himself out of contention if tension and bad luck combine to derail a title challenge.
Lowry, a far from prolific winner at amateur and professional level, defied all pre-tournament expectations – including, arguably his own – in the 2009 Irish Open at County Louth and the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush last weekend.
Coincidentally, back in ’09, Lowry went into the third round of the Irish Open as the tournament leader, just as he did in The Open last weekend. At Baltray, the then 22–year old amateur had stunned hardened professionals and delighted the home galleries in a weather-lashed Irish Open by shooting 67 on Thursday, and a stunning 62 on the Friday to zoom to the top of the leaderboard. This, on his debut in Ireland’s national Open. So much for his modest goal for the week which was to just make the cut.
That ambition was turfed into the dustbin as Saturday, May 16 dawned, but now the question was: how would the young man cope in the glare of the spotlight? Lowry led the field on 15-under par but his playing partners and nearest challengers Robert Rock and Jamie Donaldson lurked in close proximity on -13.
He was a kid, gatecrashing the big boys’ party. Surely it was time for the pros to put manners on this amateur country boy? Luckily, Lowry had not read that script. He wasn’t going to lie down and get intimidated by the Tour players.
Matters became complicated due to the weather. The gusts of gale force wind were so strong that hitting balls on the range was a waste of time.
The leading trio began their third round at 9.25am; by 9.58am they had to stop play when the hooter sounded to bring the players off the course due to incoming bad weather. Everyone, players, officials and spectators had to wait until finally, at 3.15pm, play resumed.
From then to the final putt at 7.55pm, Lowry and his caddie, former Offaly footballer Dave “Shaper” Reynolds, coped with everything the course and Rock, Donaldson et al could throw at him. A bogey six on the last which Rock birdied left Lowry slightly frustrated, but his 71, one–under par, brought him to the end of a long day as joint leader with Rock on -16. The Offaly man was not going away as perhaps Rock, Donaldson and other contenders had anticipated.
Brendan Lowry, Shane’s dad, said he was even happier with Shane’s game that Saturday than he was on the Friday when he shot 62. “He played great yesterday, but he hasn’t fallen away,” said Brendan.
The rest is history. Another 71 on that epic Sunday, the three-hole playoff, the historic victory to Shane, the €500,000 cheque for Robert Rock, the celebrations….but without the stalwart display on Saturday, it could all have ended so differently.
Last Saturday at Portrush had echoes of Baltray ’09 in that Lowry had the Open Championship lead, albeit the joint lead, with hardened campaigner JB Holmes from Kentucky, USA. Two bonus points right there: first, being joint leader, and second, despite three European wins and a WGC-Bridgestone success on his golfing CV, Lowry had not “done” many Saturdays in his Open Championship career.
His stats were: played seven Opens, missing the cut in his last four, and his only Saturday scores were 71 (2010, St Andrews), 75 (2013, Muirfield), and 70 (Hoylake, 2014). No pressure there, then.
And yet, cometh the hour, cometh the man – or, to be more precise, cometh the men as Shane Lowry and caddie Brian “Bo” Martin, rose magnificently to the occasion to bring home a new Portrush course record 63, thereby going into Sunday ahead by four.
Ah, four shots, just like the US Open at Oakmont in 2016. A source of much heartbreak and a long period of soul-searching for Shane after he fell away in the last round. Was he over it? That question was answered in style last Sunday.
What a victory, how well earned and well deserved. To win was a dream come true. To win by six shots ahead of nearest challenger Tommy Fleetwood? Phenomenal.
Let’s do our best to avoid the questions, some of which have already been thrown out there, about “what this means for Shane’s future” or “now he’s won one, how many more Majors can Shane win?”
Horlicks, the lot of it. This is the time to savour a magnificent achievement, and for the Lowry clan and Offaly faithful to revel in the joy of it all. Shane shed bitter tears at Carnoustie last year. On Sunday he shed tears of happiness. Leave the clubs alone, party and have fun, and soon it will be time enough to saddle up and get back on the Tour trail.