Lowry’s new challenge: dealing with life as an Open Champion

PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 20: Shane Lowry of Ireland reacts to his putt on the 18th green during the third round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 20, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

GAA fan Shane Lowry has the ‘One In A Row” safely in the bag and if he never wins another Major Championship, well, that’s absolutely fine. The 2019 Open Championship winner could safely shut down his career now and say “didn’t I do fantastic?” and he would be right. 

Of course, the bould Shane is not remotely considering retirement, but however long he plays, and however many titles he goes on to win, Offaly’s Greatest Sportsman is assured of legendary status in the annals of Irish golf. Whisper it, but maybe, just maybe, there won’t be too many more Tour wins. He tends to go for quality rather than quantity. Shane has won “only” four times as a professional, but boy, were they big tournaments and they each came just when he needed them. 

There was of course, that fantastic Irish Open he captured as an amateur in 2009 after which Shane turned pro. Three years later came the Portugal Masters in 2012, which was very important as a maiden win on the European Tour. Next came a big step up in class – the 2015-WGC Bridgestone Invitational. And this year Shane hit form early with success in the Abu Dhabi HSB Championship. Most recently of course he triumphed in THE Open. 

Putting them all together, that’s five wins in ten years. Not a prolific winner, then, but a very effective one. 

My point is that whether he wins 20 titles or none in the future, it really does not matter in terms of how Shane Lowry will be remembered in his native land. His legacy is assured, as is his place in the hearts of the Irish people as a national sporting hero. Why? First, because of his character and personality. Salt of the earth, rooted in family and in the GAA, a proud native of Clara town and of his home county. 

Second, he’s an ordinary chap with no airs or graces who loves the craic. Third, as a golfer he has a simple, uncomplicated approach to a game that too often is mired in complex technical theories as to how to swing a golf club. And fourth, Shane wears his heart on his sleeve. That big smile will light up a room. When it’s not going his way, yes, he can get frustrated, but that’s professional golf.  

More bad days than good, more internal mental battles than serenity, more seeming dead ends than broad highways. Shane put it all in perspective so well and so honestly when he spoke about shedding tears of despair after missing the cut in the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. If someone had tapped him on the shoulder at that moment and said “Shane, you’ll win the next Open Championship you play in,” I wonder if he would have thought: “you’re having me on, pal. Get lost.” 

Funny old game, this golf. So what now for Shane? Well, he’s had his first outing as the Open Champion at the Northern Trust. A moderate performance, which was not a surprise given the emotional high and all the celebrations following his Royal Portrush achievement. 

Shane has to perform this week at the BMW Championship to stay in the FedEx Cup race. Pressure, yes, but nothing compared to struggling pros such as Seamus Power who has a fight on his hands just to remain exempt on the PGA Tour for the 2020 season. 

Quite apart from the forthcoming tournament results in the next few months, it will be interesting to see how Shane handles (a) being a Major champion and (b) having job security assured for years ahead on the PGA and European Tours. 

In that respect he has good people around him, particularly coach Neil Manchip and caddie Bo Martin to help deal with the golfing aspect week in, week out. The big question is: Can Shane side step the potential landmine of expectations – those of his fans and from himself – about Majors in the future?   

Statistics show that winning one of golf’s four premier titles is the norm rather than the exception for those lucky few who can attain that level. The majority of Tour pros, no matter how successful, go through their career without a Major on their golfing CV. 

Take Tiger Woods (15) out of the equation, and since 1998, just 11 players became multiple winners ranging from five titles to two. 

They are: Phil Mickelson (5), Rory McIlroy (4), Pádraig Harrington (3), Vijay Singh (3), Jordan Spieth (3), Mark O’Meara (2), Retief Goosen (2), Zach Johnson (2), Angel Cabrera (2), Martin Kaymer (2), and Bubba Watson (2).  Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke are among a list of 35 one-time Major champions in that period 1998-2019 inclusive. 

And one is quite good enough, if that is to be Shane’s fate. Anything from here on in is a bonus.