Amid all the whooping and hollering stirred by Shane Lowry’s history-making feats on the links Baltray yesterday, a simple exchange between an elated young man and his proud father helped capture the true essence of an unforgettable final day at The ’3’ Irish Open.
All his life, Lowry has looked upon the All-Ireland football medal his dad, Brendan, won with Offaly in 1982 as the pinnacle of sporting achievement.
Until yesterday, when the young amateur stunned the world of golf with a truly sensational victory in only his first outing at a professional event, a feat so outrageous in concept that nobody can say for sure if it’s ever happened.
Moments after beating England’s Robert Rock, 30, a six-year European Tour veteran, on the third hole of sudden death — wow, three really was the magic number yesterday! — the youngster was asked if he’d at last managed to emulate his Old Man.
“You know, this is better,” said the Clara native, cradling the Waterford Crystal Trophy and looking straight at his dad standing at the back of the room.
“I don’t know about anyone else but this is bigger than the All-Ireland for me,” added Lowry with a peal of laughter.
If anything, the manner of Lowry’s victory yesterday was even more dramatic than Offaly’s last-ditch defeat of Kerry in 1982.
Imagine if Seamus Darby had hit the bar with his first attempt, the upright with his second and then crashed home his winning goal at the third attempt and you have some sense of how Lowry broke Rock down.
Lowry is just the sixth Irishman to win his own national Open, joining Fred Daly, Harry Bradshaw, Christy O’Connor Junior, John O’Leary and Padraig Harrington, two years ago, in the annals of history.
Yet he has done it as an amateur, a fact which ensured rich compensation for Rock as he was awarded the €500,000 first prize, which he described as ‘a little bit of consolation’.
“I’m just shocked more than anything else,” he said.
“When I arrived here this week, I’d have been happy just to make the cut but after I shot 62 on Friday, I thought ‘right, this is my week, I can win’.”
That stunning 62 had followed an impressive opening 67 and Lowry followed-up with two incredibly mature rounds of 71 at the weekend to tie Rock and force the tournament into extra time.
Lowry, who plays out of Esker Hills Golf Club in Offaly but first hit a ball as a nine year old on the local pitch and putt course in his native Clara, insisted he’d slept well on Saturday night but admitted that, for the first time in the week, he’d felt ‘very nervous’ yesterday morning.
The 22-year-old, tied with Rock overnight, one ahead of Johan Edfors, missed the first few fairways but comfortably but played a superb 4-iron from the right rough to 12 feet at three, grimacing in frustration as the eagle putt stopped on the lip.
A tap-in birdie there edged him one ahead of Rock and two clear of Edfors, raising a throaty roar from the huge gallery.
However, the Englishman would reclaim a share of the lead with a simple up-and-down birdie from just short of the green at six and the tide would turn ever so slightly against Lowry at seven.
He’d been holing five-feet putts like the one that faced him on 18 all week, but finally his nerve failed him to set up the play-off.
It turned out to be most exciting in Irish Open history and had thousands on tenterhooks — but Lowry (22) was the coolest man on the course, applying the coup-de-grace to Rock on the third tie hole.
At the first Lowry drove into the face of a fairway bunker, wedged out and hit a rescue to 35 feet, getting down in two for his par. Rock found the fairway, laid up and pitched to 10 feet, missing the putt for victory.
Second time around Lowry outdrove his opponent and hit a phenomenal 3-wood to 15 feet, just missing the eagle putt. Rock took driver off the fairway and landed in the bunker with mud on his ball, but still got up and down bravely for half, sinking a 10-foot putt.
Heading back a third time both drove right onto a spectator path. Denied a drop, both players laid-up. Lowry struck his pitch to 20 feet but Rock’s went through the back.
The Englishman chipped eight feet past and missed the putt, so Lowry polished off the 18 inch tap-in he’d left himself for an historic victory.