By Thomas Wragg
It doesn’t seem too long ago that a 22 year old Paul Dunne announced himself to the golfing world in spectacular fashion when he led the 2015 Open Championship after 54 holes while still an amateur with rounds of 69, 69 and 66. There would be no Major success in his second appearance at the oldest of the four Major Championships after a final round 72 knocked him out of contention but a tied 30th place finish was more than respectable on the famous Old Course at St Andrews. it was a springboard for success that saw him earn his playing privileges later that year as he kicked off his European Tour career.
“After graduating through Q-School my main goal was to keep my Tour card,” says Paul Dunne. “It was a difficult task. You don’t get to play the biggest events so you really have to play well whenever you get your chance.” Three years later the Irishman now finds himself in the midst of his third season on the European Tour, having successfully retained his Tour card every year since turning professional. He came close to losing his playing privileges after finishing 106th on the Race to Dubai in his first season in 2016 but he learned from the experience. He was a different proposition altogether last year as he secured his first Tour title with a superb display at the British Masters supported by Sky Sports. A breathtaking final round 61 at Close House saw him pick up the maiden victory that always seemed inevitable for a man of his ability.
‘Good to know I can win’
“It was really nice to get that first win under my belt,” he says. “I knew I was capable of winning but you get a sense of validation when you finally achieve it. Now I’m used to the environment and the general routine leading up to tournament golf. When the starter announces your name on the first tee that’s when I feel at home.”
Earning that first win was hard going, with the former University of Alabama student pushed all the way by four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, who eventually finished three strokes back, battling to avoid the first winless season of his tour career. “It’s good to know I can win when I’m under pressure,” says Dunne, “and hit the right shots when I need to. That win gave me a lot of confidence. It provided me with a great schedule going forward. It was a nice stepping stone.”
“I knew I was capable of winning but you get a sense of validation when you finally achieve it. Now I’m used to the environment and the general routine leading up to tournament golf. When the starter announces your name on the first tee that’s when I feel at home.”
Dunne’s victory opened the doors to more tournaments and gave him the stability of a two-year European Tour exemption. “Once I had a full schedule to aim for last year it was much easier to plan where I wanted to play, which made a huge difference. I’m just hoping I can keep pushing myself forward from here.” He has certainly pushed on since that victory with a debut appearance at the European Tour’s season ending finale – the DP World Tour Championship – where he finished tied for 25th as well as appearing in two World Golf Championships, the WGC-HSBC Champions and WGC-Mexico Championship, which has taken him to 82nd place in the Official World Golf Rankings. Remarkably, Dunne was 274th at the start of 2017 which makes his rise into the top 100 even more impressive. His rapid ascent is the result of seven top-20 finishes last year in addition to his victory in Newcastle.
Reaching the top 50 is firmly in his sights and with it will come the next stage in his development, gaining automatic entry into golf’s Holy Grail, the Major championships. “One of the biggest goals for me now is to break into the top 50,” he says. “Hopefully, I can make it before the Major season starts. That would be nice.” The former Walker Cup player also had a glimpse into what life could be like on a Ryder Cup team after featuring in Europe’s EurAsia Cup squad alongside the likes of Henrik Stenson, Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey as they beat the Asian contingent 14-10 under Thomas Bjørn’s captaincy.
“It was a good experience playing as part of a team in Asia,” says Dunne. “The Asians had a strong team which made it a real challenge. On a personal note, it wasn’t so great because I lost my matches but, other than that, it was a good week and getting to know the guys on Tour better was cool. “Normally, you would get cabin fever not leaving the hotel for eight days but there was such a great atmosphere between us that it just worked for all the team. Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick played a lot of video games together but all the other lads were having a good old chat. It was nice for the European team to win and for me to start the year off the right way.” Although he didn’t score any points, Dunne savoured the taste of team competition and naturally a spot in Thomas Bjørn’s European Team for the forthcoming 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National has entered his thoughts, but he knows it will be a tough ask.
‘Take it week by week’
“It would be nice to be part of that team,” he says. “It’s not majorly on my mind right now because I know if I manage to get there I’m going to have to win at least once, probably a couple of times to stand a chance. I’m just going to take it week by week and play as well as I can to win again.” With only the top four from the European Points List and the top four not already qualified from the World Points List competition for a place in the prestigious biennial competition will undoubtedly be fierce.
Dunne knows that Captain Bjørn will have plenty of options when it comes to choosing his four wildcard picks and he appreciates that he has a lot of ground to make up to get into the reckoning But Dunne has already shown, in his short career, that he has an unerring capability of facing challenges head on, and overcoming them.
So you wouldn’t put it past him to play his way onto Bjørn’s team or into his thoughts for a wildcard. Whether it happens or not, he has time on his side and you can be sure this level-headed rising star will use it as fuel for his journey to the top of the game.