Shane Lowry was so close. He couldn’t stop the tears.

He was close to golf history, so close to completing one half of his golfing dreams and winning his first major. Then it all came unraveled.

Lowry led by 4 strokes entering the final round in the U.S. Open but shot a 6-over 76 on Sunday — which included a stretch of three straight bogeys on the back 9 — to lose by 3 strokes to Dustin Johnson.

It was Lowry’s best finish in a major in his career, but it was dipped in disappointment. In the locker room after it was done and he had fallen short, Lowry admitted he was in tears, along with his coach, Neil Manchip.

“Golf is a strange game because, you know, after finishing second in one of the biggest tournaments in the world, and you have such disappointment,” Lowry, last year’s Bridgestone Invitational champion, said Wednesday. “It’s weird. Golf is a weird game. Unless you win you’re disappointed. It’s strange.”

In the days afterward, Lowry had to keep himself busy to ensure his mind didn’t wander back to the nightmarish “what if?” questions creeping back into his mind.

“The few days after the U.S. Open were quite tough,” Lowry said. “Found myself, any time I was on my own … I just — I was thinking, ‘What if I had done this or this would have happened,’ and I was driving myself mad.”

Tough choice

Winning a major represented one half of his golfing bucket list. Making the European Ryder Cup Team — Lowry is Irish — is the second part.

He’s back in Akron this week, though it might have made his road to the Ryder Cup a little tougher.

Because Bridgestone was moved up on the calendar to accommodate golf’s inclusion in the Olympics next month, European players were put in a tough position of having to choose between playing the Bridgestone or playing in the European Tour’s French Open.

To strengthen the French Open field, the European Tour decided to not sanction Bridgestone and instead offered double Ryder Cup points for the French Open.

It worked: Rory McIlroy, for one, opted to skip the Bridgestone because of it.

McIlroy also warned that those who skipped the French Open will regret it, but admitted Lowry had a difficult decision to make.

Of the 77 players who qualified for the Bridgestone Invitational, only 61 are in the field, and the European Tour’s decision is a major reason why.

“I think a few guys that aren’t playing might regret it, depending on what happens when the team is picked at the end of August, but then you’ve got Shane who was in a tough position,” McIlroy said via Press Association Sport. “He wins his first World Golf Championships last year and naturally you want to go and try to defend your title. So he was put in a tough position just because of the way the schedule was this year.”

Defending title

Lowry is currently 11th in both the European Points List and the World Points List, placing him outside the automatic entrants. He would currently need to be picked by Darren Clarke, who selects the final three members of the 12-member team.

Still, Lowry chose to return to Firestone Country Club, the site of his first win on American soil — which also gave him a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour — rather than boost his standing for the Ryder Cup team.

“Before the U.S. Open [my manager] wanted to keep me entered in the French, but I said to him, ‘No matter what happens at the U.S. Open, I’m going to go to Firestone,’?” Lowry said. “Didn’t reconsider it at all. … There’s not too many Europeans here this week, but I think I was always going to come back here and defend my title.”

So Lowry will be in Akron this week, defending his Bridgestone title. At the same time, he’ll be trying to put the pain of a lost title behind him.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ