Playing his tenth Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Shane Lowry writes about that magical week back In May 2009, when he won his national Open as an amateur on his European Tour debut…
Would I be where I am today without that wild week winning the Irish Open in 2009? My caddie asked me that last week. I’m not sure. I think I would be, but life did change dramatically, life did change overnight.
I wasn’t even a student at that point, having left college. I was just an amateur golfer. I hadn’t much money in my bank account I can tell you. Then all of a sudden you’re on the European Tour…
At the time I was one of the top amateurs in the country. That's how I got my invite in. I don't think I finished outside the top ten that year in about ten tournaments. I know they were just amateur tournaments but to me, they were as big as anything so I was going there with a lot of confidence, I was playing well. And away we went to County Louth.
Like anyone young lad would, I had some hopes, some expectations, some dreams but all in all I was just happy to be there. That was the overriding feeling all of that week. I was just really happy to be at the tournament and specifically really happy to be playing in the Irish Open. It was unbelievable. I was standing on the range next to Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie, Pádraig Harrington. Everyone was there.
I remember the early part of the week vividly. I played a practice round with Rory McIlroy on the Tuesday and then played with Seve Benson and a guy called Barry Trainor, who is a PGA pro, for the first two rounds. I started really badly. I was three over par through five holes and then 18 under for the next 31 holes so that was a bit unexpected. I was just happy to be there. I wanted to make the cut, that was it, but out of nowhere I was at the top of the leaderboard.
I probably first thought about the idea of winning midway through Friday. I remember sitting down with my brother, Alan, who was only 15 or 16 at the time, on Friday night. I looked at him and said, “What is going on like? How am I here? What am I doing?!” I remember doing the interview with Tim Barter from Sky Sports that day. He asked what it would be like to win. I said it would be life-changing. And it was.
I was leading by two going into Saturday and to be honest, a lot of the weekend is a blur. There was a big delay with the wind on Saturday and we didn't finish until late Saturday night. You would very rarely hear a golfer saying they appreciated a three-putt, but that Saturday I was glad of it.
I three-putted the 18th on Saturday evening to fall back into a share of the lead with Robert Rock heading into Sunday. Golf is funny like that. It almost helped me. It’s weird to say but it did. It just took that little bit of pressure off me going into the final day.
I wasn’t able to eat my breakfast on Sunday. I just sat in front of it looking at for a while and gave up. We were off early on Sunday morning after the delays the day before and I’m not ashamed to say I was shaking over my ball on the first tee. But once I got my first tee shot away I was fine and away with it.
I was playing well but I had missed a few birdie chances. I remember walking off the 13th green and my coach was standing there. I said to him, “I need to hole a putt soon.” The very next hole, I finally managed to get one to drop from 12ft for birdie. There is a picture of me fist pumping and the crowd are in the background.
I think that was the turning point where I felt like I could win again. Then I birdied 16 and hit a great shot to the last.
It was a great pitch to four feet. I thought that was it. It was done. I had won.
But somehow I missed that little putt. It was heart breaking. I honestly thought I had won and then I didn't.
I had to quickly forget about that, quickly try to pull myself together because it was almost straight into the play-off with Robert Rock.
On the first hole I hit my tee shot into the fairway bunker. I had over 220 for my third shot and somehow made par to get into the second play-off hole.
I missed the chance on the second play-off hole. I even thought that one was going to drop. Back again.
So on to the third play-off hole we went. To be honest, Robert handed it to me there with an average enough bogey but I didn’t care. I was just happy to win.
And then it was just crowds all around me and just delirium, beautiful bedlam.
I'm from a very small place in Ireland called Clara so it was a huge deal. It was a huge thing for the town and everyone in it. I had a parade in the town! Where we're from, when your team wins the county football championship, the whole team is paraded through the town. That was me! I couldn’t believe it really. We went into the early hours that night.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen was in charge in Ireland at the time and he was from our town so he called to congratulate me. It was a crazy time. Everyone who was anyone in Ireland called me. The amount of letters I got to my house was unbelievable.
Now, as an established player, there can be a lot of focus on you in your national Open and sometimes that can add a certain amount of pressure, but at the time, I just lapped it up. I suppose you could say I didn't know. I was naive to what the Irish Open is about but now I know. They were all there to watch me. They all had my local team's jersey on and it was amazing. It was a real buzz. You see those photos or the footage of Sunday and it’s all pouring rain, waterproofs, umbrellas, fist pumps and green invasions. It’ll never not bring a smile to my face.
But I don’t think about it much to be honest. Not any more anyway. There were a few years when I would be with my family or be at my friend's house and they would throw on the DVD of it but nowadays I never think about it. I always think I don't remember much but whenever I start speaking about it I do and I suppose you could say it was something of a fairy tale story.
Being there, on the European Tour, after that, was a shift. It was from nowhere. Even the small money I was making, making a few cuts, making a few grand here and there - I felt like I was the richest man in the world. And the happiest young lad. I mean, God I was so lucky. So lucky to win it.
People ask me if I would love to win it again – jeez that goes without saying – but I'm very lucky to have won even one.
There's a hell of a lot of Irish players who don't have any and would trade the lot for one so I'm very lucky.
I don’t forget that.
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