Shane Lowry spotted a fan waving an Irish flag in the grandstand behind the 18th green and threw him an autographed ball. The burly, bearded Irishman may not be known to many fans who aren’t his countrymen, but the same could be said of the man who won the U.S. Open the last time it was played at Pinehurst No. 2.
That’s not the only thing Lowry has in common with Michael Campbell.
In 2005, Campbell was the final qualifier out of the first sectional tournament played overseas, at England’s Walton Heath, to make the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. He then went on to win the whole thing. Three months ago, Lowry was the medalist at the same qualifier at the same course for this week’s tournament.
If Campbell can come out of that qualifier and win the U.S. Open, why not Lowry?
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“I was just happy to qualify and happy to be here, whether I won the qualifying or not,” Lowry said. “Good to be here, and at the end of the day I’m just starting from square one.”
That’s the thing about the U.S. Open. It’s truly open. It’s possible to start at square one and end up playing next to Phil Mickelson, at least for any professional or certifiably competent amateur who can survive 18 holes of local qualifying and 36 grueling holes of sectional qualifying – 10,127 entries this year, whittled down to 156 this week.
Campbell, in 2005, wouldn’t even have tried to qualify if the USGA hadn’t decided to hold a sectional qualifier in England for the first time. He did. He qualified. He won.
Why not Lowry? Why not anyone?
How about Will Grimmer, the youngest player in the field, who set a course record on Pinehurst’s No. 1 course in the North and South Junior Amateur a year ago? The 17-year-old from Cincinnati is still a year away from playing college golf at Ohio State.
How about Kenny Perry, 53, the oldest player in the field?
“My game is as good as it was when I won three times in ’08, and I won twice in ’09,” Perry said. “My game will rival my game back then. It has not changed.”
Why not Rory McIlroy, the Las Vegas favorite, or Adam Scott, the world’s No. 1 player – who isn’t favored because of his lack of previous success in this tournament?
“Certainly I haven't had the best record at the U.S. Open,” Scott said. “It’s hard to put a finger on a lot of it.”
Why not Sam Love, perhaps the least likely candidate of all? A 22-year-old recent Alabama-Birmingham grad from Trussville, Ala., he was the final player into the field, added to the tournament Saturday when Jason Millard called a retroactive penalty on himself five days after his sectional qualifying round and withdrew from the Open.
And then there’s Lowry. His triumph at the sectional qualifier came on the heels of a second-place finish to McIlroy at the European Tour’s BMW Championship last month. After a rough start to the season, Lowry is playing as well as anyone in the field.
“He’s got two prerequisites that are required this week: He drives the ball fantastic and he has a great short game,” said Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion and Lowry’s partner during a practice round Tuesday.
“Those are two things that are required. He’s got to mix that up with some patience and some discipline this week. I’m not saying he doesn’t have that, but that’s what’s required around this golf course. He uses his weapons and mixes it up with some patience and he’s got a real good chance this week.”
He might even have history on his side. Why Lowry? Why not?