Shane Lowry was a nice bookend to this year’s majors.
He followed up on what Tiger Woods did.
Outside the stirring story of the Irishman winning on the Emerald Isle, you might have thought the final round of The Open Sunday was fairly boring, with Lowry sucking all the drama out of the finish with his six-shot rout, but that’s because you didn’t see the real foes he vanquished at Royal Portrush.
None of us could see the real challenges pressing in on him.
We couldn’t see the demon memories Lowry knew to be more formidable than anyone named Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, J.B. Holmes or Justin Rose.
Coming down the stretch, the question really wasn’t whether any of those players could beat him.
It was whether Lowry would beat himself.
It was whether he would blow yet another four-shot he held lead going into the final round of a major, like he did at Oakmont in the U.S. Open three years ago.
That’s the cruel beauty of Sundays in golf.
It’s the personal history so many players have to overcome, in those long walks between shots, with all that time for their minds to prey upon them, with all that time to remember and wonder. It’s in our knowing their histories, too.
That was never the case more this year than it was with Woods.
His Masters’ victory wasn’t so much about overcoming scars that painful defeats have left him. The man, after all, had won 14 majors going to Augusta National this spring. It was about the scars of larger personal failures, and the real, actual surgical scars on his knees and back. It was about the truckload of doubt those challenges created.
Most of us went from believing there wasn’t anything Woods couldn’t achieve on a golf course, to believing he would never win again, until he reignited hopes with his victory at the Tour Championship last fall. With his assorted injuries and four back surgeries, with the scandal and the DUI arrest, there was so much physical and personal failure in his memory banks to overcome.
So much in our memory banks, too.
Woods and Lowry weren’t the only major winners this year whose victories were defined by what they overcame. Gary Woodland perfectly fit that theme with his U.S. Open victory. He was the major talent who couldn’t make it happen in the majors, until he did so impressively at 35 years old at Pebble Beach.
Lowry and Woodland were 80-1 longshots going into their majors. Woods? Most oddsmakers had him at 14-1, but two years ago he was beyond a long shot, unsure himself if he would even play again, much less be a factor in golf again.
Koepka? Yes, he’s the outlier this year. He was 10-1 to win before he triumphed at the PGA Championship. Nobody was as consistently confident going into each of this year’s majors than Koepka. Sometimes, his biggest foes weren’t invisible as much as they were imaginary, with even Koepka confessing he’ll conjure some grievance to enhance a chip on his shoulder to help him win.
Someday, Koepka may come to know the scars of failing in heart-wrenching fashion on the game’s grandest stages. It might not happen anytime soon, but if it does, he won’t have to look far for a roadmap back to the game’s most spectacular mountaintops.
Woods, Woodland and Lowry were wonderful mapmakers this year.