Why we dressed Shane Lowry like Old Tom Morris for our latest cover
Hear a man with a motherland brogue say, “Yer bum’s oot the windae,” and you’d be correct to picture a pair of pale and possibly hairy hind cheeks, propped on a windowsill, senselessly exposed to greet the elements. “Your bum’s out the window” means you’re being foolish—a halfwit, a dunce, a plonker.
Perhaps your initial reaction to our cover this month is that the editors of Golf Digest have their bums out a window. Why have they dressed Shane Lowry like Old Tom Morris, the original St. Andrews greenkeeper? Shane’s an Irishman, and Old Tom was a Scot, for cryin’ out loud. Their names are on the same trophy, but one beat 155 global professional athletes who descended on Portrush via jets and armed with trainers and agents in 2019. The other won the first of his four Open Championships in 1861 knocking gutta perchas around rabbit holes and against just 17 golfers, some of whom competed with aspirations no grander than winning side bets to cover a few ales and maybe a coal-smeared hunk of beef from the innkeeper.
Other than a beard and a belly, you might say the connections between Shane and Old Tom stop there. If we wanted to get cute, maybe we should’ve dressed Lowry as Dick Burton, winner of the 1939 Open, who had to wait six years to defend because of World War II. The cancellation of the 2020 Open at Royal St. George’s because of coronavirus is the tournament’s first interruption since.
Lowry emphasizes his understanding of the enormity of the pandemic and the difficult decisions officials made. But, he says, “Selfishly, I was disappointed. There were a lot of things I was quite looking forward to this year, like playing the Irish Open as the Open champion. The course, Mount Juliet, is about an hour from my house, so that’s a part of Ireland I can really relate to. To play the Masters as Open champion would’ve been nice. Looks like we’re still going to get to do that in November, but it’ll be different.”
Lowry’s other house is in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. When the Bear’s Club closed in spring, he didn’t touch a club for almost six weeks. “It was the longest I’ve ever gone without hitting a shot. The first couple of weeks weren’t bad, but then I really began to miss the game. Not competing, but just being able to hit a bucket in the evening, or go chip for a couple hours, or play nine holes with friends. I really missed the game so much. When it’s taken away, it’s different than deciding yourself to take a break.”
The more you get to know Lowry—as our crew was lucky to do during this photoshoot in a ballroom at the Country Club of Mirasol, also in Palm Beach Gardens—the more you sense an old-world spirit. He shuns launch monitors and golf gadgetry in general. “I’d struggle if I was seeing all those numbers. I’m definitely a bit different from other players. The only thing I’ve got is a putting mirror, which I’ve used for maybe 10 putts in the past year.”
Growing up, none of his family played golf. His first exposure came at age 9, when his mom dropped him off wearing his soccer cleats at the local pitch-and-putt. “I was very sporty as a kid, so I wanted to play anything.” For two years he carried only a wedge and putter, learning to control a Commando, which is the exceptionally soft, heavy and spinny ball used for pitch-and-putt. “The technique is actually quite different to golf, in that you tee the ball high and sweep from underneath to create spin,” Lowry says. “The course had these small, raised greens that really encouraged learning a lot of shots.”
Before Old Tom Morris was old, he played a game called Sillybodkins up and down the cobblestone streets of St. Andrews. Boys would find a club, an old wine cork to drive a few nails into (to give it heft), then pick a target. Fewest shots to hit that lamppost wins. Might even have to loft it over a horse cart.
For this shoot, we used the same London-based costume company that supplied the outfits for the excruciatingly authentic film “Tommy’s Honour.” The tweed pants were a bit snug on Lowry and had to be taken out by our on-site tailor. Lowry laughed, sweating despite the air conditioning. “I can’t imagine how they played in this stuff. If I wore this at Memphis, I’d lose two stone!”
The muted browns looked good on Lowry, whose contemporary wardrobe is mostly blacks and whites. Old Tom Morris was an understated dresser, too. Photographs of the earliest professional golfers obscure how many dressed with colorful flare. Allan Robertson, Old Tom’s mentor, was known for exotic pink caps and purple ties. Indeed, when we handed Lowry an antique club to ham it up for the camera, a strange and almost ghostly vibe settled on the set. Standing before us was an apparition of the grandfather of the modern game.
Shane Lowry gets to keep the claret jug another year. “I suppose there’s a bit of a novelty factor, and it’ll be nice to have the jug on my Christmas table again, although I would’ve preferred to be Open champion for two years in a row the right way.”
This cover is a bit of a novelty, too, but it’s not wrong.