Shane Lowry’s victory ‘the biggest thing to happen to Offaly ever’
Locals at Esker Hills club recall ‘mischievous’ teenager who became British Open champion
Esker Hills Golf Club in Tullamore, Co Offaly, where Shane Lowry learned his trade. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Monday afternoon would not usually be a peak time around a golf club, but Esker Hills in Co Offaly was bustling with buoyant members and visiting golf fanatics taking in the course.
Players paused before teeing off to discuss the “unbelievable achievement” of the club’s best known member Shane Lowry in winning his first Major, the Open Championship, at Portrush in Co Antrim on Sunday.
The local man’s success was the only topic of conversation inside the clubhouse too, where some of those gathered were a little shaken by the celebrations of the night before.
Esker Hills director Donal Molloy said Lowry demonstrated talent far beyond his years when he joined the club as a teenager, having earlier excelled playing pitch and putt.
“The whispers around the club were that this fellow was exceptional,” he said.
He remembers Lowry spending much of his spare time on the greens as a youngster, practising with the concentration and determination one might expect from a professional.
“He wouldn’t just come in and play 18 holes. When he completed it once he would come in, refuel, and go back out,” Molloy said, adding that Lowry would put in hours at a time figuring out how best to escape from the bunkers.
Aislinn Hackett, who taught Lowry when he was in senior infants at St Francis Boys’ National School in Clara, said he was always “an outdoor kid with sports in his genes”.
“He was very bright but very mischievous,” she said, recalling the twinkle in his eye and his big head of curly hair.
“If there was craic going he was in the middle of it. He would always be the one laughing, and would never be in bad form.”
While the celebrations were taking place at Esker Hills, the man of the moment was still making his way back from Portrush, taking the scenic route via Dublin. He was spotted celebrating with the Claret Jug trophy in the Boar’s Head pub on Capel Street and is due to speak to the media in Dublin on Tuesday. Clara GAA will play host to Lowry’s homecoming event on Tuesday evening at 6pm.
Despite his fun-loving attitude, Lowry always did his homework and Hackett attributed this to his strict, but brilliant mother, Bridget Lowry.
She remembers Shane joining the club at the age of 13 or 14 and other members taking notice of the potential to be a future champion golfer.
“He was a brilliant golfer from the start. People said, ‘God he is going to be a star,’” she said.
Paul Rabbette, the men’s captain at Esker Hills, recalled Lowry breaking the club’s course record with a six-under-par score of 65 as an 18-year-old.
“It was a privilege playing with him when he managed that,”he said.
More than a decade later the record has not been beaten, even by Lowry himself, who played at the course as recently as last Christmas.
“It is hard to put into words the amount of pride that we feel today,” said Rabbette, who travelled to Portrush to see Lowry close out his victory.
While Co Offaly has had some success in the hurling and football championships, Rabbette feels Lowry’s win knocks those past achievements out of the park. “This is the biggest thing to happen to Offaly ever.”
Kris Ahers (45) was among a group of Australian golfers who detoured to Esker Hills while en route from Portmarnock to Killarney.
“Our driver suggested we take a detour for lunch at the club so we thought it would be great to get a tour,” he said, adding that most of the group were “golf fanatics”. Fresh off a spin around the course in a golf buggy, Ahers said it was “great to see” where the champion golfer’s career began.
After celebrating late into the night in Portrush, club member Gerry Buckley (45) rearranged his working day to bask in the “once in a lifetime” glory of Lowry’s win.
“This will never happen like this again,” he said. “Even if he wins another one, it will not be like the first time.”
Buckley said he was “lucky enough to have seen Offaly win at hurling a couple of times, but this was unreal”, adding that it was unusual for golf to evoke such emotion.
“Golf is my main sport and Shane being from here makes me feel that bit extra attached to the sport.”
Although Lowry spent more time at Esker Hills, he later received his first “proper training” at the neighbouring Tullamore Golf Club in his late teens. The head professional coach there, Donagh McArdle, said he had never seen such talent in all his 20 years of coaching.
“I was working with people with very low handicaps and I still hadn’t seen anyone come close to Shane. This guy was on another level,” he said.
Noting Lowry’s “natural, self-taught swing,” Mr McArdle was careful not to try to overly polish his game.
“He was totally unmechanical. As a coach you can’t touch that, and you shouldn’t,” he said, adding: “He still has the same golf swing now as he did 10 years ago.”
Instead, the coach focused on improving Lowry’s preparation and set up, as well as his mental game.
While Lowry doesn’t get nervous, according to Mr McArdle, his concentration tends to “drift a little” over the course of a game. “You could even see it yesterday, but that is the same for all the top players.”
As well as a natural dexterity, Lowry’s work ethic separated him from other young players, said Mr McArdle
In the year Lowry spent training at Tullamore, he was “always the first one to the range in the morning and the last one off at night,” said the former coach.
“He would have had a mad passion for golf, so he didn’t have to be forced to the green. Others would be waiting for their mam and dad to drive them down, but he was up and focused.”
Not wanting to miss a single swing or a put, Mr McArdle, who now runs Tullamore Cycle Centre, watched the tournament at home, giving the screen his full attention so he could analyse Lowry’s game.
Ever the coach, he noted a small slip up at the 11th hole, when he felt the 34-year-old sports star rushed to putt.
“But that’s only natural, you’re going to have down moments in that kind of weather,” he said.
When the madness dies down and Shane returns to Clara, Mr McArdle looks forward to congratulating his former pupil, who he feels is destined for further success.
“This isn’t about money for Shane. Now that he has a taste for a major, all he will want to do is play more major,” said Mr McArdle, adding that Lowry has just opened a “massive door” of opportunity.
“It was a privilege working with Shane, and what he did yesterday makes it all worthwhile,” he said, adding: “It was just nice to have played a very small piece in a big jigsaw puzzle.”
The pints were still in full flow at Baggot’s Back Door pub in Clara town centre by late afternoon, where many of Lowry’s relatives and friends were still toasting the weekend’s success.
Joe Scanlon (61) said he was shocked to find himself in tears when his nephew won the Open on Sunday.
“I’m not an emotional person but I just burst into tears. It just meant so much to us all.”
While he was “incredibly proud” of his nephew, he only recently appreciated the significance of the win.
“I didn’t realise just how huge it was. Everyone just went crazy after it,” he said, adding: “He always had a talent, but we never would have thought it would come to this.
Growing up, Shane Lowry was an “ordinary child”. Coming from a family of hard-workers, there is no fear of Lowry getting any notions of himself, Mr Scanlon added.
“The way he handles himself is because of the good foundation he has gotten here. If he did get carried away, we would quickly remind him where he comes from.”
“If he was here now here now he would sit down and have a pint… And he would probably prefer not to talk about golf.”