by Ronan MacNamara
Paul Dunne by Golffile
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. After co-leading the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews as an amateur the career of Paul Dunne has not quite hit the heights as expected and has become Irish golf’s forgotten man.
The Greystones native would eventually finish in a share of 30th after a chastening final round of 78 that saw his hopes of becoming the first amateur to lift the Claret Jug since Bobby Jones (1930) disappear as well relinquishing his grip on the low amateur silver medal.
A dramatic win at the 2017 Betfred British Masters where he shot a final round 61 to down Rory McIlroy saw the 28-year-old end the year in 75th in the Official World Golf Rankings. Since then, it has been a tough ride for Dunne who begins his DP World Tour campaign in Joburg after two years of injury hell.
Open Championship qualifying has already begun for the 150th edition in St Andrews and Dunne can secure his passage and give his career a shot in the arm with a top-10 at the Joburg Open.
Despite falling outside to 1783 in the world, the former Walker Cup star is convinced he can lift the Claret Jug and what better place to do it than at the home of golf next July.
“Of course I can, (win the Open) I wouldn’t play the game if I didn’t,” he told ‘The Open’ podcast.
“That back nine wasn’t enjoyable, but the week as a whole was a really great learning experience for me.
“But I do still have a little thing in my head where I wish I could go and do it again.
“Obviously, I want to qualify for The Open every year,” he said. “Being at St Andrews, especially for me, I know I can play well there. Every time I play St Andrews, I play well.
“I like the golf course; it suits my eye, it plays to my strengths. It’s definitely a motivating factor. It will be a big target for next year to make sure I am back there.”
After two years of battling a persistent hand injury, Dunne admits to picking up some poor habits which has seen him go two and a half years without a top-10 on any tour.
Despite missing the cut at the Alfred Dunhill Links and the Mallorca Open last month, Dunne opened with rounds of 67 in both events so he feels he is finally on the right path.
“Playing through all of it put me in some really bad habits,” Dunne explained. “But I feel I am starting to get a handle on what needs to be done to fix it and I am starting to see a turnaround, so that’s exciting.
“I really feel like my head, my game, is in a good place to play well in whatever tournaments I get into and try and build my career up again and move past where I was in 2017-2018.
“I am competitive. I like when someone says, ‘I bet you can’t do this’. It kind of pushes my buttons. I thrive on that feeling when my game is good.”