VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND | Samuel Beckett, one of Ireland’s greatest literary figures, believed that failure was a fundamental basic in any creative endeavour. He even penned the famous mantra: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
His compatriot Shane Lowry might appreciate the sentiment, especially with regard to his relationship with the West Course at Wentworth and the BMW PGA Championship, an event he finally won on Sunday.
In his previous 12 tournament starts, the 35-year-old had landed no fewer than nine top-20 finishes, four of them top-six. He had twice been the halfway co-leader and in 2014 he had topped the leaderboard midway through the final round, only to be passed by Rory McIlroy.
He kept trying, he kept failing, but it didn’t matter. He tried again, he failed again, and Beckett was spot on: Eventually he produced the goods.
Starting the final round two shots back of the lead held by Viktor Hovland and Søren Kjeldsen, Lowry was well aware that going low was essential. Three of the last 12 winners of the tournament had started the final round seven shots off the pace. As unlikely as it was, those stats did suggest that no fewer than 57 of the 72 players teeing it up conceivably were within range.
In truth, of course, a 72-hole test would have stretched out the field and reduced the number of contenders. However, owing to the abbreviation of the action forced by the death on Thursday of Queen Elizabeth II, this year’s tournament was a mere 54-hole affair.
Nonetheless, birdies were out there, and Patrick Reed proved it. Fresh from an interview with the London Sunday Times in which he talked of “the malice and deceit” written about him being “ridiculous,” he hit the top of the leaderboard with a 63 for a 14-under total of 202.
It was never going to be the winning number, not least because he’d signed his card before the pre-round leaders had even teed off. But it later emerged that the timing mattered: his efforts had been noted.
A more serious clubhouse target was set by Jon Rahm who played his last 10 holes in 9-under (with a bogey) for a 62 and a 16-under total of 200 that ultimately only two men would challenge.
McIlroy would equal that tally only after his 23-foot eagle putt at the last hole refused to drop, instead hanging on the front edge of the cup to leave him in a share of second with the Spaniard.
In his first six visits to Wentworth, the Northern Irishman landed just one top-20; in his last five starts there he has one win and another three top-10s. He’s come to love playing the West Course. Lowry, meanwhile, always has adored it.
“First and foremost, I wanted to go out and win this tournament for myself. But I made no secrets as to how I felt about LIV at the start of the week, and I think for this tour, and for everyone that’s stayed loyal to this tour, I feel like this is one for the good guys.”
He was 6-under for the final round through 12, negotiated the next five holes (which have tripped him up on past Sundays) in level-par, and then delivered the critical blows at the par-5 18th – a drive over the trees to the perfect spot, an approach to the heart of the green, a safe two-putt for the winning birdie and a 17-under 199 total.
He later revealed a series of moments crucial to his triumph.
“I did a feature with Sky Sports TV at the start of the week in which I held the trophy and looked at the names on there of all the greats of European golf,” said Lowry, revealing that he wanted his name added to the list and was delighted it now was.
The loneliness of the final round also unexpectedly helped. “It’s amazing what goes through your head out there on your own,” he said. “I remembered the Ryder Cup points on offer, and I want to be there in Rome. That memory mattered.”
And what of the early efforts of Reed (and other LIV Golf rebels who went low)?
“I was motivated to go out and beat them,” Lowry said.
Lowry knew that this has been a consistent year – 13 top-25s in 17 stroke-play starts entering Wentworth – but the tale of near-misses on the course had been replicated in his form: the win had refused to come, and he endured late agony at the Honda Classic and RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour.
“Doubts do go through your head,” Lowry said. “I’ve been two ahead with five holes to play twice this year and not won. If I didn’t win today, I’d be doubting, second-guessing myself and wondering what I need to do differently.
“I’ve not exactly been banging my head against a wall, but it’s not easy to win, and anyone who thinks it is is silly. Thankfully I got over the line today.”
Those Wentworth memories were both kind and cruel.
“I love it here and it suits my eye, yet going down the back nine today, the bad shots that I’ve hit over the years in contention actually started to creep into my head,” he said.
“But I spoke to my coach this morning and we talked about it. I said, ‘Look, I’m playing some of the best golf of my life. I need to allow myself to play golf today and just allow myself to go out there and hit the shots.’ And I did, and I’m absolutely over the moon.
“You spend your life and your career getting up early every day, working your nuts off to get in these positions and when you get in these positions, it’s quite uncomfortable.
“It’s not the nicest place in the world because we don’t want to mess it up and be sitting in your hotel room having thrown away the tournament.”
He’s known failure. He’s dug deep to fail better. And now Shane Lowry is a winner again.