Lowry, Holmes each seeking first major victory
July 19, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Shane Lowry shares the lead with J.B. Holmes after 36 holes at The Open Championship. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – As the story goes, Shane Lowry and his close friend Padraig Harrington were sitting together on the same flight to California a couple of years ago when the plane encountered turbulence. After a nearby passenger started to become nervous, Harrington tried to calm her down.
“Turbulence has never ever taken a plane down,” Harrington reassured her.
To which Lowry quipped: “There’s a first time for everything.”
The Irishmen shared a laugh as they told the story during a joint interview with the Independent newspaper a day later. It was good they could smile – especially for Lowry, given that the previous summer he had frittered away a chance to win his first major by shooting a final-round 76 at the U.S. Open in Oakmont.
Lowry had entered the final round with a four-shot lead but bogeyed four of his first 10 holes, eventually giving way to Dustin Johnson. It was a harsh lesson – but perhaps a necessary one that will pay dividends this week at The Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Lowry will enter Saturday’s third round in the final twosome with American J.B. Holmes, the two sharing the 36-hole lead at 8 under. It’s Irish Whiskey vs. Kentucky Bourbon, although a large pack of contenders – including, of course, Brooks Koepka – are eager to chase.
Every golfer at this level has varying amounts of scar tissue, tournaments that once seemed in their grasp only to slip away. Holmes once led the 2008 PGA Championship after 36 holes but ended up shooting a final-round 81 in a tournament won, coincidentally, by Harrington.
But Lowry has the fresher scar tissue, and perhaps the most pressure, given that he’s an Irishman leading the first Open to be played in Northern Ireland in 68 years. If he can pull this off ... well, no Irish writer – and there have been plenty of great ones – could produce this kind of story.
“Look, I’m obviously going to be thinking about it tonight,” Lowry said. “There’s no point in shying away from it.”
Yes, but will he be thinking about Oakmont? Harrington thinks it could help.
"Very few players win these things without going through that a couple of times,” said the three-time major winner, who definitely has suffered his share of near-misses. “I would definitely think he's a better player because of Oakmont rather than scarred.
“He's won big tournaments. It's not all gone one way or the other. He's had some tough ones on the golf course and he's had some good ones. That's the most important thing. … Oakmont has definitely got to be a help to him, not a hindrance.”
Holmes hasn’t really felt the weekend pressure at a major in the last decade. His two top-10 finishes came in the same 2016 season, and they were both of the backdoor variety – a tie for fourth at the Masters when he started the final round tied for 13th, and a third at the Open Championship when he entered Sunday eight shots off Henrik Stenson’s lead.
But he has suffered through a poor stretch since winning the Genesis Open in February. After his second-round 68 on Friday, he acknowledged it was more than just a slump. “Four weeks ago, I thought my career was over. Or felt like it,” Holmes said.
He’s obviously pulled himself together at Portrush.
No one on the first page of the leaderboard has more career scar tissue than 46-year-old Englishman Lee Westwood, still seeking his first victory in his 82nd career major start. He has three seconds among his 18 top-10s; if he wins on Sunday, he’d be the oldest major winner since Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA at age 48.
Westwood’s not thinking about that right now.
“There’s too much ground to cover before Sunday night,” he said. “… If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Just go home and have dinner, go on holiday the next week. Do the same things. Life won’t change.”
Lowry said life won’t change for him, either, if he wins. He just wants to go out and do his best. A year ago, he was in bad spot. He missed the Open cut for the fourth straight year. He split with his long-time caddie. He was depressed about his game.
“I wasn’t in a great place mentally,” he said.
Now, he’s 36 holes away from being a national hero. An entire island will be rooting for him this weekend. Maybe he turns that near-miss at Oakmont into a positive.
Portrush native Graeme McDowell, making the cut on the number, will try to chase down Lowry. He expects it to be difficult. “Shane Lowry is probably one of the most competitive people I've ever met in the life,” McDowell said.
Added Harrington: “He's got a great attitude and a winning mentality … I think Shane does believe he can do it.”
Sure, Lowry’s never won a major. But there’s a first time for everything.