So what did the amateur Paul Dunne learn on Monday on the Old Course at St Andrews? More than any semester at the University of Alabama or a lifetime on any range could have taught him. He learnt how to deal with the heebejeebees of leading a Major and teeing off in the final group.
You couldn’t find a wider fairway to hit than the first at St Andrews. Phew! He found it with an iron. The huge Irish support cheered him down the first. Everything was in order as it had been the previous evening as he birdied his way atop the leader board with a seamless 66.
Team Dunne is deliberate, there is nothing of the amateur in their pre shot rapport. There is a calm, polished air about Paul’s measured routine.
Alas the nerves finally took their toll on the leading amateur from Greystones and he made contact with the big ball first and took enough of the hallowed turf to ensure that he came up short of the Swilcan Burn.
Perhaps he would get away with a chip and putt par as his nerve-settling opener. He made a bogey. Okay, no disaster. Professionals get nervous too, it just depends how you cope with them; that separates the good ones.
The cameras took us to the other leading amateurs at this year’s Open,
. Unfortunately they took us back with a jolt to the sad sight of our young hero digging into his advertising-free golf bag for his second provisional shot from the second tee. Oh no. Not so quickly Paul. Hang in there.
It was the sometimes rambling Peter Aliss who was at the microphone when we were all trying to make sense of the sight of Paul on the practice chipping green beside the clubhouse adjacent to the second fairway. What was he doing there and how many shots had he played?
The only way to get perspective on just how wide the Irish amateur really was, was by getting the overhead camera shot. Unwittingly he actually had the best angle of the entire field with the pin tucked so tightly to the bunker to the left of the second green.
Sometimes you can get a big break on the Old Course. But beware the golfing gods are watching as well as us spectators. Things usually balance out, particularly at the home of golf.
Paul stripped down to his lime green shirt on the third hole and made a relaxed and comforting birdie, an experienced move. If things aren’t happening for you, change something. He did and he settled with a two putt birdie on the fifth and he was tied again for the lead in the Silver Medal chase, but three behind the Claret Jug pursuit.
A cry came from the enthusiastic if somewhat confused Dunne aficionados near the sixth green. “Get up, get down” came the plea as his approach eventually rested pin high. He was once again looking more professional, particularly among the amateur sounding supporters.
There has never been a British Open championship in the modern era so closely contested at the top of the leaderboard.With Oliver Schniederjans and Ashley Chesters finishing on nine under and Niebrugge taking the leading amateur's silver medal with an impressive 11-under par total, and Dunne ending up with a still commendable finish, it would appear that amateur golf has never been so professional.
I know that the college system in the US is responsible for the early grooming of such steely competitors who on any given week are capable of challenging the paid ranks’ leading stars.
With their extremely competitive inter-collegiate events and disciplined regimes, it is no surprise that these students are well golf-qualified when they graduate. Coupled with their practical perspective gleaned in the big professional tournaments, they appear to be well-oiled machines when they turn professional.
The amateur associations, such as the GUI must also take some credit for their early guidance to these aspiring golfers.
Time to reflect
Although Dunne is still a relatively young amateur, he will probably need a bit of time to reflect positively on the outcome of his second British Open appearance.
The unknown amateur from Wicklow via Birmingham, Alabama and the aul’ grey toon of St Andrews, has now taken his masters in golf by putting himself on the world stage among all its scrutiny and criticism, and has come out with a wealth of experience and respect beyond academia.