Open 2015: Paul Dunne fails to live the dream but still delights the locals

Irishman came close to being first amateur winner since 1930

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The Independent Online

While the world of sport was asking “Paul who?”, nobody at Greystones Golf Club here on Monday was the least surprised by Paul Dunne’s audacious bid to become the Open’s first amateur winner since 1930.

As members swapped the office for the club bar in a town 17 miles south of Dublin, it was standing room only in the County Wicklow clubhouse to watch the Irish youngster, who began wowing locals as a 10-year-old, take the lead into the final round at St Andrews.

“If you had asked any of the members here last Wednesday if they’d be surprised if Paul finished in the top 10, I’d say the majority of people would have said ‘no’,” said David Fry, who looks after the club’s under-15 team, all of whom are now aiming to become the next Paul Dunne.

“We all know the talent is there, it was just a case of when it was going to come through. I would be shocked if he doesn’t become a star and hopefully a southern (Irish) Rory McIlroy.”

In the club foyer, a photograph of a teenage Dunne alongside a list of achievements underlined that potential, with barely enough room to cram in his collection of regional, national and European honours. Upstairs locals roared as Dunne fought back with two birdies in three holes after dropping shots on his first two as a microphone gaffer taped to the television piped commentary around the packed clubhouse. Many others had decided as late as Sunday night to hop on a ferry to cheer him on in Scotland.

“After I watched him in practice, I told everyone in the club to put money on him making the cut because he was just hitting the ball so well,” club professional Karl Holmes told national broadcaster RTE from St Andrews, as the  22-year-old’s progress dominated TV, radio and newspaper front pages in Ireland.

Greystones Golf Club members cheer as Paul Dunne birdies the fifth hole during yesterday’s final round at St Andrews

“He was always an exceptional sportsman, he excelled at tennis, soccer, Gaelic (football). He was one of those annoying kids who is really good at everything. His life is obviously going to change dramatically after today.”

His dream of becoming the first amateur to win the title since 1930 quickly evaporated during a poor back nine that left him six over par for the day and six under for the tournament. But, having watched their man show remarkable composure to shoot three sub-70 rounds before yesterday’s disappointing 78, the United States university graduate was given a standing ovation in his home clubhouse as he tapped in his final putt.

“Unbelievable, it’s been the fulfilment of what he’s done for years and years,” said  68-year-old Nigel Robinson, helping overrun bar staff collect empty pint glasses.

“He is the nicest young man that you could ever come across. No matter where he finished, he did us all proud.”

While the journey feels like it is just beginning for Dunne, his compatriot and two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington has endured many ups and downs during his long golfing journey. But the Dubliner believes he has rediscovered some form in the majors after an encouraging performance at St Andrews.

Since winning the 2008 US PGA Championship, his third career major, he has recorded just three top-10 finishes – the last his joint-fourth at the 2012 US Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Even though his seven-under total – after a final-round 75 – was good enough only for a share of 20th at the Open, the way he got himself into contention has provided renewed optimism. “I felt very good mentally,” he said. “Then the greens kind of got a bit to me. I hit lovely shots really all the way home.

“Only that tee shot on 17 wasn’t great but everything was pretty strong. I felt I hit the ball every bit as well as I needed to but I clearly didn’t putt well today. I have to think about that and figure it out.”

Three birdies in five holes lifted him to 13 under and into a share of the lead but he hit his drive into gorse to double-bogey the sixth and, although he got it back to 11 under with seven holes left, three bogeys and a double did more damage despite a brilliant long, curling birdie putt at the 16th.

“Things were going well and I thought (on the sixth), ‘Why not take it on?’ It was disappointing to lose the ball,” said the Irishman. “It wasn’t the end of the world but after three-putting eight, I really struggled with the putter.”