Ok, before beginning this article, there’s a confession I need to make. I’m not really that much of a golf fan. My ability on a course stretches to barely being able to hit a ball out of my way. Furthermore, this isn’t really a golf website. So if you’re looking for a detailed, technical breakdown of why Shane Lowry won the British open last Sunday, then you’re in the wrong place. But I can’t deny, watching him go down the 18th fairway last Sunday at Royal Portrush, made me choke up just a little.
I guess I wasn’t the only one. All over Twitter last Sunday the outpouring of love and emotion that you got from Irish folk, many of them top GAA players, was a lot greater than you’d get, for any run-of-the-mill sporting victory. From Kieran Donaghy to Shane Curran, from Damien Comer to Mick O’Dwyer, there didn’t seem to be an Irish person last Sunday who wasn’t watching it, commenting on it, or at the very least, willing the big man to win.
It brought home to you how loved he is. One wonders, in fact, if there’s another Irish sportsperson with such unilateral appeal. The biggest reason for it seems to be that there’s something so…. Irish about him. The most common expression in the wake of his success is how “down to earth” Lowry is. He’s the guy you see down O’Connor Park supporting Clara in the county final. He’s the guy you, literally, would go for a few pints with. On that subject, has Guinness ever had a better promotional drive than it has had over the past few days? I doubt it. And they didn’t even need to pay millions for an ad campaign with Michael Fassbender in order to do so.
The celebrations in the aftermath of the victory were almost as captivating as the win itself. There was Lowry standing on a table singing the “Fields of Athenry” in Portrush. There was the homecoming event in Clara featuring Mundy, Conor Moore and Des Cahill. If it was any more Irish, it would almost have been a Father Ted style parody. Yet in the context of the kind of person Lowry is, it all seemed to fit perfectly.
One of the biggest bugbears for us as a people seems to be how our biggest stars: Bono, Conor McGregor, Rory Mcllroy etc-are somehow stolen from us by America. Therefore, the vitriol you’d see for the likes of McGregor and Bono, never seems to be as big in other parts of the world, as it is on this Island. In fact, foreigners are often shocked by how ambivalent we are towards some of our most famous exports.
Yet for those other global phenomena, there’s something about them that can rub some of us up the wrong way. There’s a bluster about McGregor, and a corporate savvy about Mcllroy and Bono that Irish people find offensive. It jars with us, because that’s not the way the majority of Irish see themselves. With Lowry it’s different. It’s his humility that makes his success all the more endearing. He’s not a walking advertisement, or a hype merchant, or an Instagram model. To quote a football chant, he’s one of our own.
Apart from one prominent, incessantly contrarian, Kildare journalist, the reaction to his win has been an overwhelmingly positive one. Even the GAA authorities seem to be celebrating it. I mean, they almost had more interest in Shane’s victory last Sunday, than they did in their own games!
Now obviously the GAA has had a… “complicated” relationship with other, foreign sports. We don’t need to get into “The Ban” and rule 42 or whatever else. You’d imagine though, if Ireland were playing in a soccer World Cup final, on the same day as there was a Super 8s game in Croke Park, the GAA would do everything in their power NOT to mention it. And yet, there was something about them flashing up Lowry’s score updates on the big screen last Sunday during Kerry and Donegal, that felt totally natural, as if they should be doing it.
Then again, it’s a two way street, because the warmth the GAA fraternity has for Lowry, is only a mirror of his own feelings towards the games. He may be one of the top golfers in the world, yet HE was the one asking Oisin McConville for a photograph in the Croke Park hotel, after the All-Ireland football final last year. His Instagram feed is a litany of GAA references, whether it be of his admiration for the Gooch, or Henry Shefflin, or his continued encouragement of the Offaly team. It’s clear to see: Shane Lowry really loves the GAA community. And the GAA community loves Shane Lowry all the more for that.
If Ireland hadn’t enough reason to fall in love with him, then the interview his grandmother Emily Scanlan did with the Six One news last Monday, further cemented his legend. The self deprecating humour of it was so refreshing. “He thought he was Tiger Woods because he’d won the Mullingar scratch cup”, is a line the D’Unbelievables would have been proud of writing. And yet within that line you can almost see the intrinsic difference between say, Lowry and Rory Mcllroy. For almost all of his life, Mcllroy thought, nay expected, he would become the next Tiger Woods. Lowry himself admitted he wasn’t sure if he’d ever win a major,even when he woke up with a 4 shot lead last Sunday morning.
This wasn’t a triumph of a sporting prodigy. It was the story of a win against the odds, of a “little fat kid with glasses” as one of his former coaches once called him. This is a guy who wasn’t even professional when he won his first European tour event, and didn’t get a penny for it. This is a guy who knows too well, what’s it like to be in the same position as last Sunday at a major, and still blow it.
Of course success is part of the Lowry family DNA. His father and 2 uncles starred in Offaly’s 1982 All-Ireland win over Kerry, perhaps the most famous game played of all time. Indeed, it’s a similar situation with the Republic’s other major winner, Padraig Harrington, whose father, Paddy, played in 2 All-Ireland finals for Cork in the 1940’s.
Is it any coincidence that the Republic of Ireland’s two major winners this century, are sons of inter-county stars? I don’t think so. There is an innate drive that comes from the sons of sport achievers,who want to follow in their fathers footsteps. Success, literally in this case, breeds success. Sure, a solitary win at an All-Ireland level in 1982, might not compare to an International win in 2019, but considering the other worldly dominance of that Kerry team, both victories looked equally unlikely.
Yet even though Lowry is a supreme individual sportsman in his own right, he has not forgotten his own sporting roots. Within minutes of scooping the Claret Jug last weekend, he was talking earnestly about playing in the Ryder cup. There seems to be a love for European players, but particularly Irish ones, to compete in a group environment. It’s probably what helped fervent Dublin/Donegal supporter Paul McGinley, become such a great Ryder Cup player and captain. Even in such an individual sport as Golf, the team element is what is important for Irish players. A win in such an environment, will probably be the closest Shane ever gets to emulating the success of his father and uncles.
So when he walked up that fairway last Sunday afternoon and basked in the adulation of the adoring crowd, it didn’t seem like it was just him winning a major. It was the everyman, the archetypal rural Irishman who loves his family, his football, and maybe a few pints to go with it. So when Shane Lowry lifted the Claret Jug last Sunday, it wasn’t just a victory for him. It was a victory for Golf. It was a victory for the GAA. It was a victory for all of us.