Lynch: In a place obsessed with identity, Shane Lowry is a champion fans can relate to

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Lynch: In a place obsessed with identity, Shane Lowry is a champion fans can relate to

2019 British Open

Lynch: In a place obsessed with identity, Shane Lowry is a champion fans can relate to

By

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — The 148th Open Championship was foreshadowed with ample focus on what divides the people of this island —politics, religion, reactions to Rickie Fowler’s wardrobe — so it was only appropriate that a man who embodies many of the traits that unite them should emerge as Champion Golfer of the Year.

Only his exquisite command of a golf ball distinguishes Shane Lowry from any Irishman you’d get from central casting. He is a dry wit, is fond of a pint, is colorful with his language, is devoted to his family and is a stranger to the gym. He looks like a man more likely to be guarding the Claret Jug than having his name engraved on it, but he’s undeniably a man you’d want to be drinking from it with.

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Lowry grew up just 130 miles from Royal Portrush, a journey of four hours across Ireland’s backroads and, crucially, the U.K.’s border. That’s why Lowry can escape the yoke that has often been draped on the shoulders of Northern Irish natives who make a name in the world beyond. Unlike Rory McIlroy, he need not navigate the binary bigotry of Northern Ireland, and isn’t asked to declare an allegiance, Irish or British. In a place consumed with identity, he is someone fans can simply identify with.

Lowry is what McIlroy would love to be (wholly unfiltered) and what Darren Clarke pretends to be (a cheerful, beer-drinking bon vivant). But McIlroy could never sit in a press conference at a major with a four-stroke lead and say what Lowry said on Saturday night:

“I’m not saying that it doesn’t mean everything, it’s my career. But I’ve got certain things in my life that make it different. I’ve got family now. No matter what I shoot tomorrow, my family will be waiting for me.”

Lowry can speak with refreshing honesty about how the game doesn’t mean as much to him as it once did, and admit to occasions when he was “sh****** myself” under pressure. The same comments would have seen McIlroy spit roasted for not caring. The standards for a global superstar don’t apply to an Everyman from Clara, County Offaly (population: 3,242). Lowry doesn’t need to perch on fences for fear of offending the kind of people who actively seek reason to be offended. He is authentic. All the affability, none of the angst.

As the third round was winding down Saturday evening at Royal Portrush, a few miles along the coast in Portstewart the Anchor Bar was just getting warmed up. It was a capacity crowd of golf fans, a smattering from the U.S. and England, most from Ireland and Northern Ireland. The bar was a sea of logos, accents and tattoos — the type of evidence from which folks here are adept at drawing conclusions about someone’s nationality, politics, faith, sports allegiances or prison record.

A small Protestant band paraded past in the street, but few turned away from the TVs to watch. At another time in Northern Ireland, it might have been a combustible setting, vulnerable to the toxicity that defines so much of civic life here. Yet every Lowry birdie was greeted with roars of approval. He was one of their own, and given the missed cuts of McIlroy and Clarke, and the distant position of Graeme McDowell, he was all they had left.

Four days of comity over a golf tournament won’t do anything to erase the divisions in Northern Ireland, but nor was it supposed to. And nor did the first Open played here in 68 years need an Irish winner to be judged successful. But what it did need, it had in abundance: a course worthy of golf’s greatest championship, people willing to support it, and a deserving champion. The 148th Open held its own with any of the 147 that preceded it. And that’s something people in this often maligned little province will happily join together in raising a glass to.

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