Shane Lowry moved into contention at the Olympic golf tournament at the Kasumigaseki Country Club on Friday morning and then promptly declared that any medal he might win would be for Ireland rather than himself.
The 2019 Open champion shot a superb 65 to sit on seven-under par for the tournament at the halfway point and within striking distance of the leaders at 10-under on a course which is playing like a PGA track but with softer conditions and more amenable greens.
“It would be more for Ireland in my head,” he explained after a round delayed some time by the threat of lightning. “Obviously it would be pretty cool, it would be in my house! It would be mine. Growing up, I never thought I would be playing in the Olympics.
“I’ve been asked about it a lot the last two or three months because you have all the other big tournaments. I always said when I come here it would be the biggest tournament in the world and it is this week.
“It’s different for us. There’s no point standing here and saying it’s not different. It is different. We play big tournaments every week, 30 a year.
"I was down in the Olympic village on Sunday evening and met one of the Irish athletes who had just been knocked out and that’s five years life, actually eight years because he had just missed out on Rio, all gone in one day.
“When you see that we are lucky with what we have and that this is just another huge event on our calendar.”
It looked like Lowry might be paired with teammate Rory McIlroy for tomorrow’s second round when they both finished on seven-under, the Holywood man shooting a 66, but the rise up the leaderboard of Xander Schauffele to that of joint leader may upset those plans.
The Irishmen came through the amateur ranks together and won a European Team Championship in 2007. Whoever they partner tomorrow, Lowry is approaching these Games with the collective and the individual competing primacy in his mind.
“I’d obviously like to see Rory do well because you’re Team Ireland but it would be different Sunday afternoon if you were out there because you’d want to beat each other.
"I’ve always said it would have been nice if it was a team event because I would have got to play with Rory but we’ve been having dinner together every night and having practise rounds together and wearing the same gear.
“So you do feel that team element, travelling to the course together, but when you’re out there you’re playing for yourself, playing for your family and your country.
"That’s the reason I’m out here anyway and I’d love to bring a medal home this week. That’s my number one motivation. It’s not to come here and enjoy the Olympics experience, even though I am doing that.”
Lowry declared himself happy with every aspect of his play bar his driving, overcoming a feeling of flatness on day one brought on by the absence of crowds and committing to a more committed strategy when approaching receptive greens.
“I was a little bit more aggressive. I was hitting it at a few more flags. The greens are soft and receptive so you could go for a few but golf is a funny game, I started off lovely and then had that momentum for the whole day.
“When I came back after the delay I holed a lovely eight or nine-foot putt for birdie on 13 and from there I played lovely for the rest of the day and I actually missed a short one on 17. That would have been nice to hole but I’m happy with my score.”