What an event..... What a venue..... And what a winner!!! This years open was always going to be something special, but I don’t think anyone realized quite how special it would be!!
For me the week began on Monday as I ventured some three and a half hours north from Carton House to Royal Portrush. Arriving at the golf club around 7am I was due to watch Rickie Fowler play a practice round along side Claude who coaches him. Little did I know that I would also get the opportunity to walk alongside what most regard as the greatest golfer of all time, Tiger Woods. The duo were joined by Dustin Johnson, and the three ball was complete.
As I met the group on the first it was a beautiful sunny day in portrush, with hardly a breath of wind. The course looked stunning, better than I have ever seen it before and immediately I had the sense that something special was about to take place. At that time for me it was something special to get that close to Tiger and hear some of his insights into the course, his game and some of the things that had gone into his major victories in the past. One thing which he had mentioned was his love for fast greens and he mentioned that almost all of his majors were won on exceptionally fast greens. He loved how on faster surfaces he could use his creativity and guide the ball using the undulations on the green. Hearing him say this reminded me of something that his original coach Rudy Duran mentioned which was that he thought Tiger to think in pictures, and you could really see that when he spoke about the various different shots he would try to hit around the greens....... and he had them all!!
Tuesday and Wednesday morning gave me the chance to follow a number of the other players including Brooks, MLV, Si Woo Kim and of course one Mr Shane Lowry. The thing that stood out to me more than anything was just how much work they put into getting to know the greens. Each caddy would throw Ghost Holes out on every green or place tees in various different locations while the players chipped, pitched and putted to these locations. In a course like Portrush it is inevitable that players will miss greens in some tricky locations, so they must be prepared for this on almost every hole. Doing this gave them the opportunity to figure out how they can use the various slopes around portrush to their advantage, and help them get out of jail where needed.
As the tournament kicked off on Thursday I returned to carton house to finish our camp with the Emirates golf federation, with one eye closely on the leaderboard up north! The usual suspects came to the front as the tournament went on, Koepka, Fowler and Fleetwood to name but a few, yet a course record 63 on Saturday positioned Shane Lowry firmly at the top of the leaderboard and with one hand on the trophy.
This was almost a fairytale from an Irish perspective, an Irish man leading the open, with a northern Irishman standing at his side every step of the way, on a course in Ireland which the amazing event had only just returned to after almost 70 years.
However with that amazing support Shane was receiving throughout the event, it also brought its own pressures with it. As Sunday came so to did the weather, strong wind and heavy rain could prove to be Shane’s biggest friend, or worst enemy. Yet as my mind flashed back to Baltray when Shane won the Irish open as an amateur my instinct said he would cope, and cope he did! After a shakey first hole where it looked like there potentially could be a 2 shot swing immediately in Fleetwood’s favor, Shane held an 8 ft putt on the first green which Jack Nicklaus himself later described as the putt that won the tournament for him! Despite this there was obviously a lot of work still to do, but as Lowrys flush Iron shot sailed greenward on the aptly named “calamity” (par 3 16th) there all of a sudden was a finish line in sight, and almost every Irishman North, South and everywhere in between could breath at least a short breath. As Shane hit each shot down 17 and 18, it all of a sudden began to become real. The Open Championship, won by another Irishman, on Irish soil, but this time it was by the “peoples champ” Shane Lowry.
A special week for many reasons, and one I most certainly will never forget. WELL DONE SHANE!