As Ireland’s Shane Lowry marched down the 18th fairway of the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club, one could not help but smile. One could only feel satisfied that the entire week had been a success. Golf’s most global championship saw record-breaking attendance numbers a true, fair test of links golf and a deserving champion that Ireland can claim as their own. Lowry’s triumph on Sunday at Portrush was just the cherry on top of The Open Championship’s incredibly successful return to Northern Ireland.
Midway through Thursday’s first round, it could be argued that a disaster took place. Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, the 2014 Open Champion, hooked his opening tee shot out of bounds. This opened a round that began with a quadruple-bogey 8, and finished with a triple-bogey 7, adding up to an 8-over par 79. A nightmare scenario for both McIlroy and the Northern Irish faithful. Although a late Friday charge gave McIlroy a fighting chance to make the cut, he simply ran out of holes. McIlroy barely missed the 18th green with his aggressive approach and failed to chip in for birdie, falling a shot short.
An emotional post-round interview hammered home the fact that Rory wanted so much better for himself, and his home country’s fans.
By Friday’s end, the attention turned to Lowry, who had tied for the lead after 36 holes. He became the best hope for another Champion Golfer of the Year from Ireland. Portrush’s faithful backed him the entire way.
The weekend offered a fair, authentic test of links golf. The R&A had no intentions of turning Portrush into the disaster that was the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills. They let the weather dictate the challenge, not the course setup. Benign conditions allowed for low scores on Saturday and Lowry took full advantage. A bogey-free 63 opened up a four-shot lead over England’s Tommy Fleetwood. He had to feel cheated after shooting 5-under par and losing more ground to Lowry.
Lowry’s lead never got any lower than three shots on Sunday. He braved the week’s worst conditions by far to shoot a 1-over par 72, taking the title by 6 shots in the end. That capped off a week that Lowry had been dreaming of for his entire 32 years on earth and one that Northern Ireland had been waiting for since 1951. Lowry, among many others, expressed his love for the golf course and doesn’t expect it to take 68 years for the R&A to award Northern Ireland with another chance to host The Open.
The Open Championship’s return to Portrush offered a unique look inside a country that eats, sleeps and breathes golf. It was the local support that contributed to this event’s return to Northern Ireland, and it definitely played a part in Ireland’s own Shane Lowry hoisting the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.