The transition from a small seaside village of Portrush to the center of the golf world was amazing to witness. I say small seaside village, but in reality Portrush has three times the population of Sag Harbor. The people of this golf-loving country had waited 68 years for the Open Championship to return, and the wait was clearly worth it.
To give you some perspective how this Open Championship differed from the version that Max Faulkner won in 1951, we just need to look at Faulkner’s winning check of a whopping £300. One evening during Open week, at an auction at the very popular Harbor Bar at Portrush Harbor, a program from that ’51 Open sold for £500. Meanwhile, the winner of the 2019 Open Championship received almost £2 million. My, how times have changed!
From the first moment the R&A announced that the Open would be returning to Royal Portrush, the collective golf world assumed that Northern Ireland’s four-time major winner, Rory McIlroy, would dominate. It was normal to think that, especially as Rory was only 16 years old when he went around Royal Portrush in just 61 strokes. McIlroy only needs a Masters victory to become only the sixth player in golf history to win all four of golf’s Major Championships.
This Open was a complete sellout, and I think most of those fans were on the first hole when Rory teed it up, but the Rory cheers turned to shocking disbelief in one shot. That first wayward tee shot went out of bounds, which eventually led to a double par . . . an eight . . . and, while the dream was still alive, it quickly turned into a McIlroy nightmare.
When Rory and fellow Northern Irishman Darren Clark both missed the cut and Graeme McDowell barely made it, the Irish dream was placed squarely on the shoulders of Shane Lowery. Lowery, who grew up just three hours south of Portrush, was up to the task.
In all of my previous Open Champ-ionship experiences, I have never encountered a sold-out venue. Not only was this 148th edition of the Open sold out, it was the hottest ticket in the country. The weather at times on Sunday was so bad, I thought all 50,000 would leave and seek shelter, but I severely underestimated the ruggedness of the Irish faithful. It was almost impossible to spot anyone seeking refuge from the elements.
Shane Lowery didn’t have a suc-cessful record in Open Championships. He had missed the cut in his last four appearances. But this was different. This Open was on home soil.
By my calculation, Lowry won this Championship on Saturday with his unbelievable eight under par round of 63. Starting the final round with a four-shot lead put him in position to claim his first victory in a Major. And, after the 14th hole on Sunday, the coronation parade began. At that point, he knew the Claret Jug would be his.
The fun-loving, smiling, full-bearded Irishman tried to soak in every moment of those final few holes. Oddly enough, the last time anyone claimed the Claret Jug sporting a beard was in 1882.
Lowry’s mother and father were waiting to greet their son when he walked off the 72nd hole as the newest Champion Golfer of the Year. His wife and two-year-old daughter were also waiting, as well as a host of fellow professionals . . . most of them Irish.
Shane’s father, Brendan, was a noted Irish Gaelic football player who turned 60 on Friday. When Shane handed his father the Claret Jug, Brendan proudly blurted out that it was the best birthday present ever.
There are some odds and ends to wrap up the “Major Championship Season for 2019.”
Clearly, Royal Portrush has established itself as one of the finest seaside links courses in the world. To describe it any differently would be like saying that the Irish don’t know how to party. Reports are coming in that the last Guinness to toast their Irish hero was hoisted just after 6 AM Monday.
Word has leaked out the Open at Portrush was such an overwhelming success, a return is definite. No surprise with that news, but what is surprising is that the return could be as soon as 2026. If that works out, we would have the U.S. Open at Shinnecock followed by the Open Championship at Royal Portrush . . . what a twosome that would be!
In closing, let me leave you with this freaky factoid. Over the last 20 years, the average age of the winner of the Claret Jug was 32 and the average Official World Golf Ranking was 33rd. Believe it or not, when Shane Lowery teed it up last Thursday in the first round of this Open Championship, he was 32 years old and was ranked 33rd in the world.