In golfing terms it’s been a good week for the Irish – a very good week indeed.
Ever since I sent a full glass of red wine spinning towards Shane Lowry ten years ago at a European Tour dinner, covering his previously immaculate white dinner shirt in a growing pink stain, I’ve counted him as one of my favourites. His equable handling of the whole incident, without the merest flicker of annoyance, endeared him to me right there and then. So, I was thrilled to see him celebrate victory in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the first of this year’s Rolex series of tournaments.
Shane was that rare beast, a wire-to-wire winner, opening with a scintillating 62 and refusing to be deflected from his goal even after falling four adrift of Richard Sterne with a mere seven holes to play. The confidence and natural buoyancy he possesses were washed away after the 2016 US Open where he failed to capitalise on a four-shot lead going into the final round. Now they’ve come rushing back in full force with this victory. With a cheque for more than a million Euros in his back pocket and a leap of 34 places in the world rankings to 41st, Shane has all but assured his appearances in the year’s majors and World Golf Championship events. That’s a significant move after losing his PGA Tour card a few weeks back.
He and his coach, Neil Manchip, have worked their way out of a miserable 30-month spell and this win will long be remembered for the remarkable ELEVEN birdie 2s Lowry recorded at the sixteen par 3s he tackled over the week. My outstanding memory of the tournament, however, will be his tee shot and 3-wood to the final hole, setting up that winning birdie. Apart from the flawless execution of both shots it is everything that had preceded it for those two and a half long years that makes those shots so special. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and, when he needed it, Shane conjured up the mental fortitude to prove to himself once and for all that he does possess that raft of elusive qualities which means you can win at the very highest level.
There is no reason why he can’t and won’t join that wonderful band of Irish major champions. And, now, I think he believes that too.Many years ago that most gritty and blunt of the leading coaches in the game, Pete Cowen, was coaching some promising Irish players. When asked was there anyone, apart from McIlroy, showing any great talent, Pete gestured at Lowry. “The fat one with the glasses. He can play a bit.” Some years later, after he’d won the Portuguese Open in 2012, Shane sent Cowen a message: “Not bad for a fat boy in glasses.”
Seismic changes are afoot in the governance of the sport in Ireland. The two oldest amateur governing bodies in world golf, the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) and the Irish Ladies’ Golf Union (ILGU) held an historic vote last Saturday asking for support from the clubs for the creation of a new body, Golf Ireland. The months preceding the vote were filled with a plethora of meetings and roadshows up and down the country, educating and informing the clubs of the pros and cons and the aims and ambitions of the new body. Two separate votes took place, the ILGU requiring 75% to trigger a constitutional change and the GUI needing only two thirds of the vote.
It was a nervy wait for the results, but it needn’t have been – the intensive homework done and the stellar communication conducted by both sides resulted in a very clear mandate from the clubs, 100% in favour at the women’s meeting and 94% at the men’s. [That’s the way to conduct a referendum! – ed] A two-year transition period now commences and the actual birthday of Golf Ireland is scheduled for 1st January 2021. It can only be good for the game, surely.The two boards issued a joint statement: “The result today indicates that members of both Unions are in support of creating a new organisation which will be built around promoting core principles of equality, diversity, inclusion and excellence.”
In the twilight of its existence the ILGU saw fit to honour two outstanding women for their longstanding and dedicated work for women’s golf throughout the land. Both Roma English of Larne and Elaine Bradshaw of Clontarf and Kilkenny and an erstwhile Irish captain of mine, have been awarded Honorary Life Membership of the ILGU. No two deserve this accolade more and it is a worthy recognition of all they have both brought to the game. Congrats to you both!Unbelievably, there was still more to come for Irish golf fans this week. Step forward 21-year old Conor Purcell of Malahide, the first Irish winner of the Australian Amateur Championship in its 125-year history. A Walker Cup hopeful, Purcell left college in the US to concentrate on full-time amateur golf this season and, ironically, this victory will bring him the opportunity of teeing it up in a couple of professional events over the course of this year. The rollercoaster 36-hole final against Aussie Nathan Barbieri yielded 17 birdies between the pair and a nerve-jangling tie hole which the Irishman won with a solid par. Thanks to the delights of Facebook Live, Conor’s parents Joey (long-time professional at Portmarnock) and Mary were able to watch the trophy presentation from their home in Ireland. With brother Gary, a tennis professional based Down Under, on the bag it was a real family affair, albeit they were separated from each other by thousands of miles.
It would appear that the future of Irish golf is in good hands on all fronts and once again this small island is teaching us all how it is possible to punch above your weight time and time again.