‘Hold fast to dreams’ – reflections on The Open, 2019

Its been a strange and intriguing summer of Sport and there is hopefully plenty still to come. The sight of a Leitrim Hurling Captain giving a winning speech on the steps of the Hogan Stand was surely a signal that something was amiss, the equivalent of an El Nino in sport. A Dublin lad lead the merry English Cricketers to their maiden World Cup win, more novelty perhaps than surprise. The Boxing world shook when Anthony Joshua got knocked on his backside four times in seven rounds by the unheralded Any Ruiz Junior. We all love the underdog and the mavericks, those who tear up the form book, upsets odds, beat bookies, overcome adversity and in so doing give us all hope.

The popularity of Shane Lowry’s win is as great for his Sport as much as it is great for the small sport-obsessed island of Ireland. Lowry’s personality and integrity transcends all the soundbites, barriers, all the spin and sky-sport-speak. This Open was all set up to be a glorious home-coming for Rory McIllroy and to a lesser and more local extent GMac.

After the Hollywood man’s disastrous first round the crowd needed a messiah. Lowry came in like an under-study when the lead has suddenly taken ill on opening night. Boy did he grasp the opportunity and as the days went by, boy did the crowd get behind him, Not everyone would be aware of the significance of the ‘British’ Open been played at Royal Portrush but for many on this Island this event had a great significance outside sport. The late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein knew the value of this tournament to Northern Ireland as did Arlene Foster of the DUP. Despite the inclement weather it was a resounding success and to have an Irish winner is the icing on the cake. The genuine warmth in which those citizens of Northern Ireland (those that identify as British) embraced Shane Lowry is evidence again that sport has the capacity to unite this island like nothing else. We’ve been here before, a sample of Jackie Kyle, George Best, Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor, Gerry Armstrong, Barry McGuigan, Wayne McCullough, Darren Clarke – all Ulster men admired throughout the Island for their achievements. Lowry’s approval shows us that it cuts both ways. I’m not sure the few flags waving in the crowd on Sunday were greeted with the same enthusiasm by all, but it certainly was a novelty to see the Tricolour waving unmolested in Portrush in the month of July. The late ‘chuckle brothers’ McGuinness and Paisley would surely have had something to say to each other from the balcony on high.

You can’t help but feel that Shane Lowry can be a victim of his authenticity. His gregarious, humble demeanour and his beefy frame seem to distract us at times from the fact that he is a serious Golfer playing at the peak of his career. Lowry is a fierce competitor, focussed, professional, the product of years and years and thousands of hours of honing his craft. Lowry is no maverick, he is no underdog, he is the real deal.

Amidst all the success it was wonderful that Lowry, in reflecting on victory, was keen to praise others, his manager, his agent, his family and of course his current caddy, Bo Martin. He also reflected back to a time just one year ago in the very same competition when he sat in his car in the car park at Carnoustie, crying in despair, having missed the cut for the fourth year in a row in The Open. As the hordes of supporters and well-wishers descend on the champion’s home town of Clara this evening , we can also reflect on what is probably the greatest gift of his sensational victory – we will never emulate Shane Lowry but somehow he makes us all think that we could if we really wanted to. As the great Merseyside songsmith wrote “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”

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