Gerard Donnelly just looked down and there it was sitting in the 18th hole – the ball Shane Lowry hit to win The Open at Royal Portrush.
It was the Co Tyrone teacher’s first day attending a golf event and he followed his fellow Irishman around the famous links course as Lowry triumphed on home soil.
Donnelly’s view was blocked as Lowry’s ball fell into the final hole to secure his first major, so he had no idea the new champion did not lift it out amid the celebrations.
An hour later, with the presentation and speeches completed, the cordon around the green was lifted and he walked onto the cherished surface with friends.
“I just wanted to see where he made the putt to win The Open – I just went up to the hole, looked in and saw something sitting in it, it didn’t even trigger with me,” said Donnelly.
“I just bent down and picked up a ball and then four guys in the grandstand roared at me: ‘What have you just picked up there?’
“When I described it said there was a shamrock on it they said it was Shane Lowry’s ball that he’s won The Open with. People were soon talking photos of me with the ball. It was my first ever golf event so to find that was just unbelievable.
“I can’t believe no-one else saw it before I got there as I’m sure 100 people walked past that hole. That evening was like a blur, a mix of wanting to tell people and not tell people at the same time – I didn’t want it to be stolen.”
Donnelly was soon in contact with Lowry’s management company – they suggested that he posted the ball to them but this was too precious a treasure to risk that.
“It’s not something I’d like to post in case it got lost but Shane has followed me on Twitter and if he wants it I will go down and hand it to him,” he added.
“I would not sell it and would keep it in a wee case. It’s a brilliant memento to have for Irish sport, for Shane Lowry to win The Open when it’s held at Portrush and the ball used for the putt to win.
“It’s amazing – everyone who comes to the house wants to see the ‘Lowry ball’ but very few get to hold it.
“Ideally I would give it to him. It’s great for me to have but it has sentimental value for him and might be something for him to always look back on.
“I would love to meet him so if he wants we can arrange that. I will give the ball to him and if there’s a VIP ticket on offer for an event I’ll not say no!”