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Is Shane Lowry's Open Triumph The Greatest Achievement In Irish Sporting History?

Is Shane Lowry's Open Triumph The Greatest Achievement In Irish Sporting History?
By Gary Connaughton

As Shane Lowry walked down the 18th fairway yesterday, we knew we were witnessing history in the making. With a six shot lead, having blown away the competition, the Offaly man could soak up the fevered atmosphere safe in the knowledge that he was about to claim the Claret Jug.

It was emotional. It was special. It was quintessentially Irish.

The sportsperson that we often hold up as the prime example of everything that it means to be Irish was about to win one of the biggest prizes in sport, and on home soil too. It truly was a moment we will never forget.

When the victory was finally confirmed, the reaction around Portrush was incredible. To see the emotion etched across Shane Lowry's face as he embraced those closest to him was mesmerising.

This was the culmination of his life's work, a moment he had dreamed of since he first picked up a club. No matter what else he goes on to achieve in the game, this will no doubt be the thing he holds up as his crowning glory.

As we sit here 24 hours later, having had some time to process the events of the past few days, the magnitude of what Shane Lowry has done is only now starting to sink in.

There is an argument to be made that his Open Championship triumph in Portrush is the greatest achievement in Irish sporting history.

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Winning a golfing major is no easy task.

There may be four every year, but golf is a truly global sport. It is played in almost every country in the world, with top class professionals emerging from each corner of the globe. To win the sport's biggest events, you must be a truly elite player.

Despite this, the island of Ireland is no stranger to producing champions of golf's four major tournaments. Since Padraig Harrington first claimed the claret jug in 2007, Irish golfers have won 10 majors: Rory McIlroy with four, Harrington with three, and one each for Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, and now Shane Lowry.

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Apart from the United States, our golfers have been by far the most successful in these events. After Ireland's 10, South Africa is next on the list with four major wins.

In this sense, Lowry's win was not exactly unique. However, when you consider the circumstances around the victory, its magnitude is brought to light.

The significance of an Irish golfer winning a major title on home soil cannot be overstated. Before this year, The Open Championship had only been held in Ireland on one other occasion, the 1951 iteration in Royal Portrush. That event was won by Englishman in Max Faulkner.

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After a 68-year absence, how fitting was it that an Irishman would go on to be crowned champion golfer upon its return?

We may never see this feat repeated in our lifetime.

Even if Portrush is kept on the course rotation for The Open (as expected), it will likely only be played there every 10 years or so.

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Due to the limited size of our country, we rarely have the opportunity to host the world's largest sporting events. The Tour de France opened in Ireland in 1998, we played a part in the Rugby World Cup in 1999, the Special Olympics came here in 2003, we had the Ryder Cup in 2006, the Europa League final in 2011, we will host four games at Euro 2020.

You could argue that The Open tops the lot.

This was an event held entirely in Ireland, and one the Irish people supported to historic proportions. It was a tournament that had only one winner, and he would be an Irishman. It is truly incredible.

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The admiration and well wishes extended to Shane Lowry have been overwhelming. There have been few people, if any, that did were not thrilled to see him take it home.

That unity is also a factor.

Irish athletes have achieved some incredible things over the years. However, due to the tribal nature of sport, it is rare to see something be universally praised by those from all walks of life.

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When the rugby team does something noteworthy, it is labelled as a minority sport in global terms. When the football team wins a big game, their achievements are inevitably belittled by comparing them to the world's most successful teams. Anything in the GAA is disregarded by many due to it being an exclusively Irish sport.

Those opinions may not be correct, but they are out there. There have been no such efforts made to bring down Shane Lowry.

He has united the nation.

Much of that is down to the man in question. Rarely has there been an Irish sportsperson that has been so universally appreciated, liked by so many.

He crossed lines that are often there between supporters of rugby, GAA, and soccer. All are Shane Lowry fans.

In the buildup to the event in Portrush, The Open coming back to Northern Ireland after such a long absence was held as a prime example as to the progress made in that region.

After so many dark years, there was a sense that the old obstacles had slowly been lifted. There is a long way to go, but the divisions that have been present for so long are staring to blur.

If this event was seen to be uniting Northern Ireland, having a player win it to bring together the entire island was incredibly apt.

Bringing this event back to these shores was an achievement in itself. Shane Lowry helped make it all the sweeter.

All of this is before we even discuss the nature of the win.

Entering the event as a 70/1 shot, Shane Lowry absolutely destroyed the competition. At a time when the margins are becoming tighter and tighter at the top level of golf, The Clara man streaked ahead of a world class field. He won by six shots.

His round on Saturday was one of the greatest 18-hole performances we have ever seen. Lowry would register eight birdies and 10 pars on his way to shooting a 63, a course record on the revamped Portrush.

It was the second lowest round in the history of golf's four majors. He was flawless.

All of this from a player who was at his lowest ebb only 12 months ago. After the opening round of the 2018 Open Championship, a tournament in which he missed the cut, Lowry cried in the Carnoustie carpark. He was disillusioned with golf.

As he said himself, what a difference a year makes.

Entering the final round on Sunday with a four shot lead, the Offaly man had an unbelievable opportunity to claim his first major title. But he had been here before.

In 2016, Lowry carried a four shot advantage into the final round of the US Open in Oakmont. He wasn't ready. A six-over par 76 on the final day meant he would finish one shot behind Dustin Johnson.

Having brought the exact same lead into yesterday's round, there would surely be some nagging doubts at the back of his mind. Those were quickly banished.

It was not the spectacular showing we got the day before, but his mental toughness was astounding. On a day which did not lend itself to low scoring, Lowry managed the conditions better than anybody else on the course.

It is not easy to deal with the pressure that comes with being a home favourite, Rory McIlroy found that out the hard way.

Instead of buckling under the expectations of the Irish crowd, the 2019 Champion Golfer of the Year used them to drive himself on. Make no mistake about it, the Irish support played a part in this victory.

Every patron at Portrush gave a helping hand. It is no wonder he dedicated his victory to the people of Ireland during the trophy presentation.

That is what makes it all so special, we all played a part.

Shane Lowry's Open triumph is the greatest achievement in Irish sporting history.

It is rare we see something unite our island in this manner, to make us all feel so connected. Shane Lowry did it. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what makes it all so special.

 

SEE ALSO: Shane Lowry Sings Raucous 'Fields Of Athenry' After Winning The Open

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