Vousden on Lowry’s New Masterpiece

Thought of the Day
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go

Lowry paints a masterpiece
A processional stroll to victory, in which the outcome is writ large well before the final putt finds the bottom of the hole, is rarely exciting but watching Shane Lowry saunter his way to the claret jug had a thrill all its own.

The barely believable seems to happen so frequently in sport nowadays that to say ‘No scriptwriter would dare come up with something so outrageous,’ has become a cliché. England winning the cricket World Cup having tied with New Zealand after a full day’s play and a super over; Liverpool overcoming a three-goal deficit against Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final; Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic slugging out the men’s singles final at Wimbledon, taking the fifth set to a tie-break decider for the first time in history, all begin to seem almost commonplace.

So perhaps we should not be surprised that when the Open Championship returns to Ireland after a 68-year hiatus, an Irishman not only wins but does so in such a relaxed, insouciant style as to make the achievement appear predetermined. Several of his countrymen were fancied ahead of Lowry (and for simplicity I will regard all those born on the island, to be Irishmen) but after the first two days he was the only one of Irish heritage left with a realistic shout of victory, and after three days everyone else had been blown out of the water, too.

As Greg Norman will testify following his horror show in the 1996 Masters, a six-stroke lead on the last day of a major can disappear quicker than a politician’s promise, especially when you bogey the first hole. But after that wee wobble, no matter what his opponents or the weather could throw at him, Shane sailed serenely on. Few golfers can have coped with last round pressure better than the man from County Offaly, and even fewer first-time winners of a grand slam event can have smiled so wide and for so long en route to glory.

Then again, when you shoot a course record 63 in round three, looking all the while as if (and whisper this to our stony-faced American friends) you’re having fun, a bit of Portrush weather won’t offer much of a challenge. And that is the abiding memory I will take from this Open, a man with a mile-wide grin joining the ranks of the immortals.

One statistic I will also remember is that between 1860, when the Open was first held and 2007, only one Irishman had won it – and that was Fred Daly in 1947. So that’s one victory in 147 years. In the 12 years since 2007, Padraig Harrington (twice), Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and now Shane Lowry have added their names to that rollcall. And McIlroy’s three major wins in America, along with Graeme McDowell’s US Open triumph, mean that, per head of population, the Irish must be the most successful golfing nation on earth.

And while Shane strolled serenely on there were the usual incidental stories of interest, such as JB Holmes starting the final round with only two players ahead of him, and finishing it, after a car crash 87, with only three behind him. As one of the slowest players in world golf he won’t have been helped by playing alongside Brooks Koepka, who is one of the quickest and more than once gave Holmes the ‘hurry up’ signal by tapping his watch. Koepka himself missed his own small part of history insofar that, had he been three strokes better on the last day, he would have become the first man to finish first or second in all four majors of a calendar year.

We will need to wait a few weeks for the dust to settle to see if squeezing all four majors into a 13-week schedule is a success but my first impressions are that it doesn’t work. Players have little time to recover from one before embarking on another and moving the US PGA to create space for the FedEx Cup playoffs suggests an odd set of priorities. The majors are the pinnacle of the game and lesser events should be moved to accommodate them, not the other way around.

Sky’s TV coverage was of its usual high standard but I did miss Butch Harmon’s voice. If you analyse the content of what he said it often wasn’t too profound but the style was always enjoyable. To compensate, however, they have Paul McGinley, whose insightful observations add greatly to the pictures. For example, in round two he spotted, long before anyone else, that Shane Lowry’s demeanour changed, that he seemed to have lost some focus and as a consequence was not playing as well. And he immediately noticed when the big man regained his concentration.

Final thought. Young Scot Robert MacIntyre had a great week, finishing tied fifth. For me though, his greatest achievement was ticking off Kyle Stanley, with whom he played the first two rounds. When Stanley, for the second time failed to shout ‘Fore’ as his ball headed towards the gallery (where it hit a spectator), Robert reminded him about accepted etiquette. The American responded by saying he did not to be educated on the rules of golf. Yes, Kyle, you do.

Quote of the Week
There are only two types of player – those who keep their nerves under control and win championships, and those who do not.
Harry Vardon

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