By CATHAL KELLY
Monday, July 22, 2019
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND -- Shane Lowry won the Irish Open when he was 22 years old. Because he was an amateur at the time, he couldn't collect the 500,000 firstplace cheque. The professional he'd beaten in a playoff got it instead.
That didn't dent Lowry's delight in the moment.
In his comments after the win, the Irishman established his unusual approach to elite sport.
"This has come so fast I don't know where I am," he said. "But I'll have a couple of pints and sort things out in the morning."
Ten years on, an athlete who once described himself as "borderline lazy" has become the newest hero of Everymen everywhere. Lowry didn't just win the Open Championship on Sunday. He lapped the field.
The first interviewer who got him off the course told him to enjoy the coming celebrations.
"Oh, don't worry," Lowry said, twinkling so hard you could already feel Tuesday's hangover arriving.
"I will." However he prefers to indulge, Lowry won't be buying. He may never do so again in his home country.
The Irish do three things at an all-world level - hospitality, literature and golf. Lowry joins a remarkable list of modern major champions, all from an island with a population less than that of New York.
But the circumstances of Lowry's win make this one first among equals. He did it in Ireland, winning what has always been the most British tournament of a British game. This was history rounding back on itself.
Forty years ago, this event could not have happened here, because had it, it would have sparked riots. Now it can be a shared experience between former enemies. It's the rare instance in which the culture led, and sport followed.
The week's co-winner was Portrush. The town sits low on the seaside. To get to the centre of it from any point, you come over a rise and see it and the water suddenly spread out in front of you.
Each morning, you had forgotten how beautiful that view was. It left you stunned each time.
But small, beautiful places don't tend to be the best choices for golf's Super Bowl.
Portrush is about the size of a suburban subdivision. There are only a couple of main roads in and out. A quarter of a million people showed up over four days.
But in that kitchen-party way the Irish are masters of, everyone got where they were going and with a drink in their hand.
There was no hierarchy to this. Everyone was just in it together - and by it, I mean the weather.
Lowry emblemized this well-whateverworks approach. After he'd shot the round of his life on Saturday, he said his prep for Sunday would be to go home, lie on the couch and watch Love Island - one of those quasi-pornographic reality shows they like so much over here.
His caddie, Bo Martin, another Irishman, headed across the street to the busiest bar near the course. The place was heaving. Martin stood in the highest-traffic section of it necking beers and greeting well-wishers.
"Where's the jacks?" Martin yelled out at one point, meaning the toilet.
"Follow the Ole Ole Ole's and turn left," someone yelled back, to general frivolity.
In North America, this would be tabloid news - famous sports man seen carousing before big game. In Ireland, it's considered good manners. It shows you haven't got so uppity you won't have a cheeky pint with the little people.
You knew when Lowry was near because of that Ole Ole Ole - an all-purpose Irish sporting salute that doesn't celebrate victory, but instead a good time being had.
Owing to experience, the Irish have learned how to have fun after any result, even a beating.
This may be why Lowry seemed to shrink slightly in victory. He was clearly overjoyed, but didn't hop around and make a show of himself. That is not done here. Once you've won, mind you don't get a big head.
Given how he performed, Lowry would be forgiven if he did so, briefly. Sunday was a showcase for links golf, rather than golf in general. The tee times were moved up to avoid what the local weather services were calling "showers" and "fresh breezes."
The "fresh breezes" were gale-force winds. The "showers" showed up in the midst of Lowry's round, with rain coming in so hard caddies were holding umbrellas out like shields against it rather than over heads. Lowry's playing partner, runner-up Tommy Fleetwood - an Englishman, so someone who knows whereof he speaks - called it "shocking, shocking weather."
Given the conditions, nobody in the final few groups shot better than par.
What Lowry had to do was hold fast.
Aside from an extreme wobble on the first hole, he did so. He ended the day with his worst score of any round as well as his biggest lead.
In essence, Lowry won the Open twice - once on Saturday, with his hands; and again on Sunday, with his head.
Though it is one of the great tropes of sport, very few wins seem fated. This was one of those.
An Irishman in Ireland. The amateur who'd won the Irish Open and then struggled to live up to that promise. An easygoing, roly-poly guy in a sport that fetishizes hard-driven men and Olympic-training routines.
A Saturday for the ages. A four-shot lead on Sunday - the same one he'd had and blown at a U.S. Open. The crowds, the pressure, the sense of occasion.
And despite all that, or maybe because of it, he managed it. Ireland - the island rather than the country - has won a few of these, but none has been so perfectly plotted as this one.
Were it North America, we'd now be asking if Lowry is poised for greatness. He's 32 and in his golfing prime. Is this the start?
In fact, someone asked the very question.
Lowry's very Irish answer: "Jeez, let me enjoy this one."
And then off to the bar to meet up with a few thousand friends.
Shane Lowry celebrates during the final round of the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland on Sunday.
GLYN KIRK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Shane Lowry, seen admiring the Claret Jug on Sunday, stands out in a sport that fetishizes hard-driven men and Olympic-training routines.
GLYN KIRK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES