For a country long divided, Shane Lowry’s victory in the British Open was a reminder of unity and the bonding effect of sports.
This was one island pulling for one man.
“For Ireland, such a small place, it’s our 10th major [since 2007], and from a small country we keep producing,” said Padraig Harrington, who won three of those. “If you become a top-class Irish golfer, you have got a great chance of winning world-class events.
“There are not many sports in Ireland where if you’re the best in Ireland, you’re going to be the best in the world, or competing to be the best in the world.”
Actually, golfers from Ireland or Northern Ireland have won 11 majors, if you count Fred Daly winning the 1947 British Open.
Lowry is from Clara in County Offaly, a four-hour drive south from Portrush and smack in the heart of the Republic of Ireland. His caddie, Brian “Bo” Martin, is from Ardglass, a coastal fishing village in Northern Ireland.
“Golf in Ireland has always been a united sport,” Martin said. “When you play amateur golf for Ireland, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, whether you live in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. As far as we’re concerned, it’s one golfing union.”
But he added: “I think this is really good for Northern Ireland. It’s going to be brilliant for tourism, brilliant for the country to see, brilliant for the fans. Nothing bad comes from something like this, does it?”
There hadn’t been a British Open held in a place other than England or Scotland in nearly seven decades, not since the tournament was held for one year at Royal Portrush in 1951.
For so long, Northern Ireland was known primarily for its division and sectarian violence. Battle lines were drawn between unionists, mostly Protestant, and Roman Catholic supporters of a unified Ireland. More than 3,700 people were killed over the course of the complex unrest, euphemistically known as “The Troubles.” Those haven’t entirely subsided, even after the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998 led to a fragile truce.
To those who only casually follow golf, Lowry was almost an afterthought at the start of this tournament. The golfers from the Emerald Isle who got most of the attention were Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, all major winners.
Lowry said that he didn’t even know when he went out Sunday morning if he was good enough to win a major. But since childhood, he fantasized of doing so.
“Yeah, obviously, look, I’m Irish,” he said. “I grew up holing putts back home to win the Open. It was always the Open, wasn’t it? I watched Paddy [Harrington] win his two Opens. I didn’t even know him back then. I’m obviously very good friends with him.
“To have him there on the 18th, like you go into Paddy’s house and the Claret Jug is sitting on the kitchen table, and I’m going to have one on my kitchen table, as well. I said that to him, as well, that’s going to be quite nice.”
Another wonderful moment for Ireland was an entirely unpredictable one. It came when McIlroy shot a 65 on Friday after a miserable 79 in the opening round. The four-time major winner from Belfast failed to make the cut by one stroke but received a rousing standing ovation from the crowd at the 18th green, one that brought tears to his eyes. And he wasn’t alone.
“He was wearing his heart on his sleeve and he was laying it all out there coming in,” McDowell said. “And to watch him break down a little bit kind of felt like legitimized my tears in my eyes Thursday morning a little bit. I was on the first tee on Thursday wondering what the hell was wrong with me. But when I saw Rory [Friday] night I understand it means a huge amount to us all.”