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Lowry plays for the love of the game

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – There is no calculable way of measuring this. No statistics, no numbers, no world ranking to forge a decisive order. Instead, we’ll just have to go on educated opinions and a little blind faith.

If you took all of the world’s elite golfers, lined them up in a row based on how much they really, truly love the game, the man standing at the front of that line may very well be Shane Lowry.

Just consider the last two weeks in the life of the 25-year-old Ireland native.

As the lowest-seeded player in the WGC-Accenture Match Play field, he knocked off old buddy Rory McIlroy with a smile on his face, then defeated Carl Pettersson for good measure. After losing in the third round to another friend, Graeme McDowell, rather than pack up and catch a plane, he walked the course in the gallery watching McDowell’s next match.

From there, he flew cross-country to Monday qualify for the Honda Classic. OK, not such a big deal; a handful of other players did that, too. But nobody else did this: When he missed getting into this week’s field by a stroke, Lowry paid his $690 entry fee and played a Golfslinger.com mini-tour event on Thursday. Yes, that’s right. The world’s 62nd-ranked player, exactly one week removed from beating the world’s top-ranked player, teed it up in a mini-tour event.

Why? Because he wanted to, that’s why.

As if that’s not enough, he followed a round of 1-under 71 at that event – with seven birdies – by returning to PGA National, the very place he had his heart set on competing this week, and once again walked amongst the gallery, this time keeping tabs on McIlroy.

“Even Rory looked at me yesterday and he was like, ‘What are you doing here?’” Lowry said Friday morning. “I’m a golf fan, so why not go out and watch the best golfer in the world play?”

The fact that it doesn’t seem like a big deal to Lowry should in itself qualify such behavior as a pretty big deal.

“It’s the greatest game in the world, isn’t it?” he said with a smile. “I’m privileged and honored to be able to do what I do for a living. It’s amazing.”

That attitude – coupled with a wicked short game – is quickly making Lowry a fan favorite here in the United States. It should serve him well, too. His end goal is to become a global player, much like McIlroy and McDowell, competing on both the PGA and European tours.

The short-term goal is a chance to play in the year’s first major at Augusta National. Lowry needs to climb at least a dozen spots on the world ranking between now and the end of the month, which means he’ll need a strong performance at next week’s Puerto Rico Open.

He’ll also need a few more opportunities. Lowry is hopeful to receive sponsor’s exemptions into the Tampa Bay Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and Shell Houston Open, the latter of which carries a lone, final invitation into The Masters field with a victory.

And yes, Lowry has the kind of talent to accomplish such a feat. He won The Irish Open as an amateur – in a downpour against veteran Robert Rock, no less. His defeat of McIlroy last week served as further proof that he’s on the verge of bigger and better things.

“It was good to see,” McIlroy told Irish Golf Desk this week. “Yeah, he’s good enough. He’s definitely good enough.”

He also loves it enough. There are few elite professional golfers who take their careers for granted, who don’t understand that hitting a little white ball around a course for millions of dollars each week is a dream come true. But there are also a healthy number who view it a job more than a hobby.

In other terms: They love the game; they’re just not in love with the game.

The same can’t be said for Lowry. From beating the No. 1 player in the world to watching him play from the gallery, from traversing the globe in hopes of Monday qualifying to competing in mini-tour events, you get the sense that he’d do this even without promise of fortune and fame somewhere down the road.

“To be able to play the game that you love for a living, I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I just have to try and make the most of my luck.”