I cried on Sunday when Shane Lowry won The Open Championship. Covering The Open from afar is a bizarre experience. It’s always one of my favorite weeks of the year, but it’s still a little weird. My family drove to Colorado for the week for a wedding, and I was left in my house for four straight days of nothing but consuming Royal Portrush, pounding venti coffees from Starbucks and trying to make funnies on Twitter.
It sounds sad — and maybe it is sad — but there’s nothing I enjoy more than howling at 3:30 a.m. (ET) at Golf Twitter and texting with friends about the stuff we can’t say publicly (Golf Twitter After Dark). The entire week really is a joyful experience, and as much as I genuinely love traveling to events with friends, often you get a more holistic, immersive experience by watching on the telly.
The cost is two-fold. The first is that you don’t really sleep, and the second is that it’s a rather lonely existence. I went to a neighborhood party with some friends on Saturday night and felt like I had to relearn how to interact with humans.
So maybe it was some combination of solidarity and a schedule and rhythm no sane person would ever cling to that led me to cry on Sunday afternoon in my kitchen after Lowry won The Open. But I wanted to walk back through the end of the day and try to figure out what brought that emotion out of me. Not much about golf makes me cry — other than Gary Woodland hitting stingers (but those are tears of joy) — so I needed some answers.
These rounds and these events go by so quickly, often it’s hard to process what’s happening, much less the way in which you’re consuming it, until there’s more time. There’s more time now so let’s jump into some scenes from Sunday as I saw them.
1. A man alone with a trophy: On Saturday evening, Lowry told us what was on his mind. “I’ll go to bed thinking about holding the Claret Jug tomorrow evening,” said Lowry. “It’s only natural, isn’t it? We’re human. We’re not robots. We can’t not think about things. And when you try not to think about something you end up thinking about it more, so you might as well talk about it.”
I’m not sure anything will ever touch the theatrics of Phil Mickelson kissing his hand and touching the glass around the Claret Jug at Royal Troon in 2016, but to see Lowry on Sunday on the first tee and know what he was feeling on Saturday evening and the four-stroke lead he blew at Oakmont in 2016 … well, the hooking bullet he hit off the first told me everything I needed to know about where his stomach was at. The whole thing wobbled, and you wondered if 80 was in play.
2. Sauce at the 16th: It was pretty much over by then. Much weather had been weathered. Many pars had been saved. Many contenders had been blasted into the stratosphere. Lowry had two dangerous shots left. The first was his tee ball into the laugh-out-loud difficult 16th. He hit a searing missile right at Calamity Corner and right for the tournament’s heart. He never even watched it. The ultimate sauce.
3. The 18th: It’s always the best five minutes of the golf year, but this one seemed extra special. Lowry’s hands were in the air nearly before his approach shot landed. The good-but-not-great player who had missed four straight Open cuts won this one by six was and was also from the place where The Open returned after seven decades? It would have seemed silly at the beginning of the week to insinuate that this was the script, and yet, here the jolly lad from this very island bounded up the horseshoe while surrounded by orange, green and white and Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Ricky Elliott. Ole, ole, ole played in the background. It seemed too good to be reality.
4. The dad: I imagine former Gaelic footballers aren’t prone to emotional public outpourings, but this is what happens when your son wins The Open. Brendan Lowry waited patiently, and the old bearded man embraced the young bearded man, and I looked around and found my heart in my throat.
5. The disbelief. That hug with his dad wasn’t when I cried though. I cried when Golf Channel showed this quote from him at his presser followed by him hugging his wife and daughter on the 18th. I don’t know why this was what got me, but it did. “I couldn’t believe it was me,” said Lowry. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. I thought about it all day, but I didn’t really think about it until I hit my tee shot on 17.”
It’s not even a great quote, but when you combine it with the 63 on Saturday and the war inside his mind on Sunday and the minuscule chance that this week — of all weeks! — he would play the greatest golf he’s ever played in his life and finally usurp that Irish Open win in 2009 as an amateur, maybe it makes sense.
6. The doubt: My favorite quote of the week — and maybe the year — was this one: “I suppose I woke up this morning not sure if I had what it takes to win a major.” It’s not what professional athletes are supposed to say. Can you imagine, for example, Brooks Koepka saying that? And yet, it’s the most human thing about them. The thing we all share; fear, doubt, uncertainty.
I wake up and wonder sometimes if I’ll be able to write two consecutive sentences that make sense. I wake up and wonder if I can be a good dad. I wake up and wonder if my friends actually like me. Lowry woke up and wondered if he could win the damn Open. For whatever reason, I found that to be an incredibly vulnerable moment, and I loved it.
7. The turnaround: Cut-cut-cut-cut-champ. That was how it went at the Open for Lowry. My buddy Brendan Porath pointed this out all week, but everything can change so quickly in this game. It’s rarely like that in other sports like it is here. I think there’s some hope in that. You generally are who you are in most other sports, but out here you can catch some sort of magic and let it hurl you into a reality you could never have imagined.
8. Home: I read Sean Martin’s special piece on Lowry and what being from somewhere means, and it was awesome. Lowry is rich and now fairly famous and outrageously good at golf. But he also comes off as just a dude from a place with a bunch of other dudes who love playing golf and love emptying glasses after they finish with the golf. I thought about him taking that jug home to his club and just how momentous that will be. Not for him, per se, but for everyone else.
So yeah, I cried on Sunday after The Open. I was neither rooting for nor against Lowry. I don’t know him. I’ve never spoken to him. But he comes off as a real human with doubts about how good he is at his job and true joy over success in his life. He comes off as somebody who loves and appreciates his parents and can’t believe he gets to do all of this for a living.
That resonated in a way few other golfers (or athletes) could make it resonate. Winning The Open is such a massive deal for kids who grew up in Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland. It’s bigger and more important than any other tournament. Lowry’s face said all of that (and more!) as he shut down the major season.
I didn’t cry when Tiger Woods won the Masters (although I certainly choked a little when he hugged his kids!). I didn’t cry when Europe beat the U.S. in the 2018 Ryder Cup (although I wanted to!). I actually don’t remember the last time I cried because of a sporting event. The deeper you get into this job, the rarer it becomes, I suppose. The only things that make me cry happen in my own life or the lives of my friends or family, not the lives of people I hardly know and often cover from a distance.
Maybe it’s because the major season started with hope and it ended with hope. A hopeful Open. A man living his boyhood dream even as his boyhood has extended in ways we don’t often see in professional golf. Shane Lowry won the Open, and somehow — in a year in which Tiger Woods got his 15th and Brooks Koepka destroyed worlds — it was my favorite moment of the year.