'Shane Lowry's Open win at Royal Portrush was a triumph for player and course'

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent

Ears still ringing, voices hoarse and heads a little sore but the party will surely rage on.

Irish golf has so much to celebrate - not just producing a new major champion in Shane Lowry but also the resounding success of The Open's return to Royal Portrush.

When the deal was done to bring the championship back to Northern Ireland, the club - which last staged the event in 1951 - was guaranteed at least three Opens in 30 years.

That was the trade-off for big course changes and infrastructural work that made it possible for Portrush to return to the roster. Given what we witnessed last week, Open organisers at the R&A will want it back there as quickly as possible.

Rumours circulated in the wake of Lowry's victory that it might return as soon as 2024 and it did not need an Irish winner to make it such an attractive proposition. That was an added bonus.

This was the biggest and best golfing party I have ever attended. Not just for the craic and atmosphere, which were magnificent, but for the golf course, which is simply stunning.

It affords majestic views that sit comfortably alongside those we enjoy at Turnberry as well as a golfing test that is rigorous and fair. The players loved it - the only minor quibbles being over the undulations on the new seventh green.

The winner was required to play stunning golf through all forms of weather, which is the ideal scenario. Lowry's Saturday 63 was brilliant, seemingly played in a bubble of serenity amid uniquely raucous home support.

The 32-year-old from Offaly took full advantage of the flat calm but a day later showed true golfing craftsmanship, fizzing low long irons coupled with razor sharp wedge-play to hold the field at bay.

It was a procession with little jeopardy down the closing stretch. But the lack of competition did not matter because the setting and the crowds ensured a spectacle for the ages.

This was the first all-ticket Open and it was a sell-out. R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers told me this would be the blueprint for the future.

'To do it at Portrush - you couldn't write it' says Open champion Lowry

Already more than 50% of the tickets for next year's tournament at Royal St George's have been sold. The joyous scenes at Royal Portrush can only further boost sales.

The 150th Open will be staged on St Andrews' Old Course in 2021, and Royal Liverpool will host the following year. It is expected the championship will then visit Muirfield, now that it is no longer an all-male club.

If St Andrews returns to its usual slot for 2025 that would discount using a Scottish venue a year earlier which would suggest either Portrush or Lytham for 2024.

There would be few complaints if the County Antrim venue is chosen and, regardless, it will not be too long before we see the Claret Jug back at the course.

If only the overall golfing calendar made as much sense. It is a melancholy thought that we now have no more men's majors until next April's Masters.

The new schedule means we have rattled through them with unseemly haste and while some players have harnessed form at the right moment others have struggled. They have found it hard to prepare for peak performance in the events that matter most.

Justin Rose highlighted the problem. "It's too condensed," said the Englishman, who did not play between June's US Open and last week's major.

"In terms of trying to peak for something, the process that's involved in trying to do that can be detailed and it can be longer than a month. So that's my reasoning for that.

"But I also think it's pretty much driven by the FedEx Cup wanting to finish on a certain date, and everything else having to fit in where it can.

"For me major championships should be the things that are protected the most. That's how all of our careers ultimately are going to be measured."

With The Open now the last of the majors, the make-up of the big four feels even more geographically lopsided. April's Masters in Georgia, the US PGA somewhere else in the States in May and then June's US Open.

It hardly reflects the global nature of the sport that only one of the majors is played outside the US. Other parts of the world should get the chance to experience the sort of scenes we witnessed at Royal Portrush.

It is also ridiculous that the schedule takes the men's game straight into a World Golf Championships event in Memphis this week. There should be room for the calendar to breathe, but the lure of the corporate dollar seems all-important.

For Lowry, meanwhile, life will never be the same. We have always known he was a special talent from the moment he won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur.

His career has had its peaks and troughs - he missed the cut in his past four Opens and lost his PGA Tour card last year.

But the way that he has rebuilt his game has been wonderful to watch. His win at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi was massively important and deservedly put him back among the elite.

This epic Open win means a transition to superstar status, and handling that will present fresh challenges. Not that he should worry about such issues right now.

This is a time to party. Lowry's victory was also Royal Portrush's triumph. More importantly, the entire week was something for the whole game to cherish and celebrate.


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