Crowds throng 18th fairway to hail Lowry’s ‘huge’ Open victory
When the dam burst it burst spectacularly.
The orderly bank of volunteer stewards tried to hold back the crowds from the 18th fairway as long as they could – but as Shane Lowry marched to the green, and to Open Championship victory, they could resist no longer.
Hundreds charged forward and health and safety went out the window.
One man with an Irish tricolour draped across his back fell into a bunker amid the charge over the Portrush dunes.
Others tumbled into bushes, their friends not in the least bit interested in pausing to retrieve them.
This was more Jurassic Park than Open golf.
The first “Ole, Ole, Ole” had come two holes earlier – on the 16th – when there was no longer any doubt who was going to be crowned champion.
Now, on the approach to the 18th green, it rang out louder still.
It was a remarkable scene to conclude a remarkable four days on the Causeway Coast, when the Open’s historic return to the island of Ireland was sealed with an Irish victory.
Among the bedlam was Barry Cleary, a member of Lowry’s home club in Co Offaly, Esker Hills.
Wearing a county GAA shirt, he had earlier managed to climb on top of one of the big screen scoreboards to secure a view above the thousands straining for a glimpse of the champion.
“It’s the best view I had all day,” he said.
“It’s huge for a small county like Offaly to have such a hero like Shane to drive things on.”
If Lowry had offered to buy a pint for all those who endured the downpour around the eighth green they probably would have asked for him to stump up for a round of dry towels instead, although some seemed to take a perverse pride in the intensity of the weather.
“I bet you don’t get rain like this in England,” one local said to a Tommy Fleetwood fan sheltering beneath his umbrella.
At another point in the deluge a well-prepared fan’s cap blew off to reveal another cap below it.
Some brollies did not survive and were abandoned as the crowds surged after Lowry.
Tricolours proved adaptable amid the downpour. Some wore them as capes, others as sarongs and some just wrapped them round and round their heads.
But as the rain cleared and the flags dried, more and more were held aloft, with umbrellas serving as ad hoc poles to host them higher still.
Vantage points were at a premium through the round.
Getting a view was at times almost impossible, such were the numbers following the final group.
“Will you commentate for me,” one fan said to his taller companion beside the sixth green. “I haven’t see a shot since the third.”
One TV camera woman with a fixed spot on the 17th green was beyond exasperation as Lowry putted on the penultimate hole, as her viewfinder was entirely obscured by the backs of fans who had broken through the ropes. One of them was, of course, wearing an Offaly jersey.
Among Lowry’s legion of supporters on the course was Jennifer Kelly from Wicklow, whose young son Sean was delighted to secure the new champion’s signature on a replica 18th green flag.
“It’s was a great atmosphere,” she said. “This is my first ever Open and it’s been great.”
Dubliner Frank Murray flew back from London to witness the tournament in Portrush.
He was among the convoy heading north early on Sunday morning with the hope of seeing an Irishman win the Open.
“There were a lot of Irish regs on the road up, that’s for sure,” he said.
Shane O’Neill, a solicitor from Belfast, said the weather did not put anyone off.
“It lashed it down and sure everyone still came out,” he said. “It’s incredible, the first time here in 68 years and for Lowry to win it is fantastic.
“The course has been the winner this week, the atmosphere has been electric. I have been at a few Opens before and this has topped them all.”
Carly Roel lives a couple of miles from the course. Along with her brother and cousin she took to the fairways wearing an oversized green bow-tie and comedy glasses to demonstrate her support for Lowry.
“We loved it,” she said. “We are so proud of Portrush and our area. We have loved every minute of it.”
Earlier, Rick Henry from Belfast welled up over the prospect of an Irish winner before Lowry even teed off.
With tears in his eyes, he said he was proud that so many thousands of international spectators had enjoyed themselves.
“No matter who you talk to – Canadian, American, Japanese – anybody in the world, they love this place and the only thing I am hoping is we have put on a good show,” he said.
“Irish people, you know what we’re like, we always want to put on a good show.”
Few could claim the 148th Open at Royal Portrush was anything else.