Portrush, Northern Ireland – Brendan Lowry thought his son might one day play in front of thousands of screaming fans at Croke Park in Dublin, where he and his two brothers helped lead his team to victory in the 1982 Gaelic football championships. He had a footballer’s build, after all, and the game was the family’s sport.
Shane Lowry liked golf better. But the father got the part about playing in front of thousands of screaming fans right.
Another big win for the Irish at the British Open. Tears for everyone around.
And a day unlike anything Brendan Lowry ever experienced on the pitch.
“Nothing like that,” he said as his son was walking down the final fairway. “This is so much better.”
Lowry led the cheers from a portal off the 18th green Sunday as his son came into view, emerging from a swarm of fans rushing up the fairway at Royal Portrush. He threw both arms up in the air in celebration, tears welling up in his eyes.
Around him, other family members shed some tears of their own. There was so much crying going on that former Open champion Padraig Harrington – who made sure he was on hand along with Graeme McDowell to celebrate his fellow Irishman – nearly broke down himself.
They were tears of joy for a player everyone seems to love. And they were tears of happiness for a country in a complicated relationship with its northern neighbor.
Three Northern Irish players started the first Open here in 68 years as both sentimental and betting favorites. When it finished on a soggy and windy day, an Irishman from about four hours away was the winner – and a wildly popular one at that.
“I know they treated Shane like one of their own,” said McDowell, who grew up playing in Portrush. “North or south of the border. There is no border when it comes to golf in Ireland, simple as that.”
A day that began for Lowry with unimaginable pressure ended in the kind of joy that made everyone at Royal Portrush smile – if they weren’t crying at the same time. He took a four-shot lead into the final round of the British Open and survived some shaky early moments to win by six.
Alongside every step of the way was his father, who was perplexed when his son took up golf and finally decided to take up the game himself because of all the time he spent driving Shane to golf courses.
“It’s a dream come true,” Brendan Lowry said.
Two years ago his son was playing so poorly he lost his card on the PGA Tour. The year before, he lost a lot of his confidence when he coughed up a four-stroke lead going into the final round of a U.S. Open won by Dustin Johnson.
Now he’s a major champion, and what they call in these parts the champion golfer of the year. The win was both career defining and life altering, for a red-haired, freckle-faced player who might have the best touch around the greens of anyone not named Phil Mickelson.
It looked like a rout. But it felt much different inside.
“I didn’t feel great out there, it was probably the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt on a golf course,” Lowry said. “You’re out there trying to win an Open in your home country and it’s just incredibly difficult.”
Technically, Northern Ireland isn’t Lowry’s home country, though a lot of Irish consider it so. Northern Ireland was in a bloody tug-of-war between Britain and Ireland for years before a 1998 treaty helped restore order.
The Open returned for the first time since 1951 because of that, because Royal Portrush is a great golf course and because the Emerald Isle has rabid golf fans. Some 237,000 of them – some waving Irish flags – bought tickets this week and were treated to spectacular vistas off the North Atlantic, and the blustery weather that goes with the area.
“I think the players got sunshine, they got flat calm, they got a bit of breeze from different directions,” McDowell said. “And they got a little Portrush Armageddon.”
The wind blew so hard Sunday that Lowry’s umbrella broke on the front nine. Rain fell heavily at times, and it was only appropriate that it started again as the final twosome came up to the 18th green.
On the ground, the tears were flowing almost as hard. About the only one not crying was the winner himself, who hugged his wife and young daughter, then walked off the green into an embrace with his father.
“Unreal,” Lowry kept repeating as he hugged family members and friends off the 18th green. “Unreal.”