Shane Lowry eager to continue battling with the big guns
Dedicated Offaly fan Shane Lowry will delay his departure for the US Open to support his county in their Leinster Football Championship derby at Cusack Park, Mullingar on June 12.
Oakmont? The second Major of the season? Yes, but all in good time. The heart of the GAA beats within Lowry's breast, and as the son of former Offaly All-Ireland winner Brendan, he just cannot miss this opportunity.
Nine years elapsed between Offaly's last Leinster victory in 2007 and Sunday's home win over Longford. That was two years before Lowry carved a niche in European Tour history by winning the Irish Open at County Louth as an amateur.
This year's event, hosted by the Rory McIlroy Foundation, gets under way at The K Club tomorrow.
Since 2009, the golfer has risen to greater heights while the Offaly football team has languished in the doldrums, so Lowry won't miss the chance to support his county in Mullingar.
He texted Offaly boss Pat Flanagan from The Players Championship in Sawgrass, urging the team to break their Leinster hoodoo, and listened in.
"The first-half I listened in my bedroom, and the second-half in the locker room, and then I went into the players' lounge and Padraig (Harrington) listened to the last 10 minutes with me," said Lowry. "It's great, we got a win. People laugh at me. I said to Padraig, 'it's all right for you, you get to experience that every year'."
Irish sports fans will understand that deep-rooted county GAA loyalty.
It's possible that foreign golf media and observers would throw up their hands in horror at a world class player opting out of a practice round on the Sunday of US Open week, in favour of a football game of any description.
But this is what makes Lowry - who played a practice round at The K Club yesterday with Carrick amateur John Ross Galbraith - such a popular figure. The boy can play golf at the highest level but he appreciates there are times for a wider perspective.
He smiled when it was pointed out to him that yesterday, May 17, was the anniversary of that stunning Irish Open victory when the then amateur Lowry defeated Robert Rock in a play-off.
"It was probably the biggest highlight of my career. To win your home tournament as an amateur, I don't think many people will do that in the game," he said.
"I don't know where those seven years have gone. I feel like I've come a long way as a player and as a person. I'd just love some day to win it as a pro as well."
The Irish Open in 2007 accelerated Lowry's move to the professional game, and last year's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational triumph opened the doors to a full PGA Tour card.
Steady progress has underpinned Lowry's golf career and he hopes to maintain that trend.
"I won the Irish Open, then came on Tour, and it took me a while to get the hang of it. I started making cuts and getting myself in positions to win," he continued. "It took me a few years to win again, in Portugal, and kick on. I broke into the top 50, and won last year in Firestone, and obviously I'm up another level again."
He has only played twice in The Masters and twice in The Players, and improved his performance second time round.
"Going to America, myself and Dermot (Byrne, caddie), we are learning new courses and doing the same thing as we did seven years ago in Europe. I'm a better player than I was then."
Lowry's learning curve took on a new level when he teed off alongside World No.1 Jason Day in round three of The Players Championship last Saturday.
Rounds of 65 and 68 set up a big challenge, but he slumped to 78 on day three. "The next time I'm out with Jason Day on a Saturday or the World No.1, things will be different," he added. "I'm not saying I let nerves get to me, I just got off to a bad start."