Shane Lowry hailed his Open Championship glory as an "out of body experience" as he revealed on Sunday night how he had only recently clawed his way back from golfing despair.
The 32-year-old said he had been sat in his car weeping this time last year after leaving Carnoustie so distressed with his play that he fired longtime caddie Dermot Byrne. "Golf wasn't my friend at the time," he said. "It was something that become very stressful and it was weighing on me and I just didn't like doing it. And, look, 12 months on: What a difference a year makes."
Yesterday, the proud Irishman took his first major title in commanding fashion with an against-the-odds victory that also exorcised ghosts of Oakmont, when he failed to convert a four-shot lead in the final round of the US Open in 2016. Amid ecstatic scenes on the 18th green yesterday, he hugged his caddie Brian 'Bo' Martin before being embraced by wife Wendy and two-year-old daughter Iris. Lowry had become overwhelmed with emotion before he had even finished his round.
"I spotted my family when I walked around the corner to have a look where the flag was, and I spotted them all at the back of the green," he said. "To be honest, I welled up a little bit and Bo told me to catch a hold of myself, I still have to hit a shot. Thankfully I hit a decent shot in there and two-putted." Lowry joked that he would be playing on at Opens until toddler Iris was 30. "I'm going to be coming back on another 27 Opens to play," he joked. "She's going to be nearly 30 when I play my last one. That's going to be nice."
There were parties in the street in Lowry's county of Offaly as he finished 15 under par, six shots ahead of England's Tommy Fleetwood, with American Tony Finau two strokes further back in third. Lowry, who now banks £1.53million, added: “I feel like I am in an out of body experience. I was so calm coming down the last hole I couldn’t believe it."
Lowry's US Open collapse had been playing on his mind the previous night. "Look, I think I knew that I had to fight to the bitter end today, and that's what helped me," he said, recalling his final round struggles in Oakmont. "I knew today that I was going to have to fight to the very end, and I did."
Lowry, who said the title was "huge for Irish golf", had struggled to sleep as the enormity of the occasion hit him on Saturday night. "I didn't sleep very well," he said. "I slept for about four or five hours last night, and I normally throw a good eight, 10 hours at it. So I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about all sorts. And I was awake at half six this morning."
Roared on by a sell-out crowd undeterred by the miserable conditions, Lowry carded a closing 72 to become the fifth Irish player to lift the Claret Jug after Fred Daly, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy. For Lowry, it was a childhood dream come true, and he joked that he once cursed the likes of Harrington for winning majors when he was unable to.
"I'm just so happy I can add my name to the list of major champions," he said. "I used to curse them an awful lot in the past because that's all anybody wanted to know about in Ireland because they were winning so many majors. When are you going to win one? Winning regular events wasn't good enough for anyone."
He added: "It was just incredible to walk down 18. The crowd is going wild. Singing 'Allez, Allez'. He said he felt "very surreal". The 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush has been a major success, and Lowry said he felt like he was at home. "I'm home now, you know what I mean? To be able to win it at home. And it was just so easy for people to make the trip up to watch me. To be able to go out and celebrate with local people is obviously very nice."
Lowry, who says he now hopes to feature in the European Ryder Cup team next year, credited his success with the calming influence of his caddie, Brian “Bo” Martin, whose wife had given birth just a fortnight ago. "His wife drove up today, and his little boy was here," Lowry said. "It was amazing. I've known Bo a long time. He's now become a very good friend of mine. And to be able to share it with someone so close was very special."