Paul Dunne might have led the British Open as an amateur but he has no plans to stop aiming for the stars following his brilliant performance at the European Tour Qualifying School in Catalonia.
His 23rd birthday falls next Thursday and he hopes to celebrate it by making his debut as an official tour rookie in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in South Africa (followed by the Australian PGA) after surviving the Q-School jungle without suffering much more than a scratch.
The pride of Greystones brilliantly chiselled out his future when he won the 16th of 27 cards at PGA Catalunya Resort, closing with a level-par 72 (and an inconsequential three-putt bogey) to tie for 13th on 10 under par, three strokes inside the crucial top 25 and ties after six exhausting rounds.
“It’s a great step for me,” said Dunne, who was one of seven players to come through all three stages this year. “Turning pro straight away, to skip all the mini tours and the feeder tours and to go straight to the main tour is something I always dreamed of doing.
“As long as I keep setting new goals and reaching towards them, hopefully I can keep playing well and never have to visit this place again.”
With PGA Catalunya Resort seeking the 2022 Ryder Cup, Dunne may be back sooner than he thought after a hugely impressive performance.
Amateurs or budding tour professionals should note that the former University of Alabama-Birmingham star played 258 holes over the three stages of Q-School in 32 under par – 14 rounds plus the six extra holes required to get through a six-man playoff for two spots at the Second Stage in Tarragona
“The thing that pleased me most for the whole of Q-School is that I didn’t shoot over par once,” said Dunne, who had to dig deep on the tough Stadium Course but came up trumps alongside 19-year old Swedish amateur Marcus Kinhult, who also shot 72 to win the 16th card. “It was a steady rise each day.”
After an early birdie from three feet at the second, he double bogeyed the water-protected, par-three fifth to fall back to nine under par but didn’t panic.
After 40-foot lag putt fell into the hole for an unlikely birdie four at the seventh, he holed a 10 footer for a two at the eighth, saved par from 15 feet at the ninth and followed a bogey at the 13th with a crucial sand save from 10 feet at the 14th to remain 11 under.
“The putt on nine was a big one,” said Dunne, who would miss a two footer for par at the last with his card in the bag. “It kind of calmed me down a little bit and I just had to play steady coming in.
“I dropped one on 13 and hit a bad second to 14, I knew it was important to get that up and down and birdie 15.”
After a three wood and four iron to the heart of the 492-yard 15th, a two putt birdie left Dunne on the brink.
“Once I birdied 15, I knew that if I didn’t do anything stupid I’d be fine on the last three,” he said.
“My number one goal since I started back in college in February was to get through Q-School. To achieve something that I’ve been wanting to do and practicing for since February is brilliant.”
While there was joy for Dunne, Damien McGrane made early mistakes that led to him chasing birdies and ending up with bogeys and doubles, slipping from 18th to tied 54th on two under after a 78.
“It changes nothing,” said the 44-year old, who has no plans to return to the circuit next year bar seeking an invitation for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at The K Club in May.
“Unfortunately, right now, I have no desire to play next year. I’d hope to play the Irish Open but that’s six months away. That’s as far forward as I am looking.”
There was no luck either for Simon Thornton (71) or Kevin Phelan (72), who finished one under and level par respectively, well outside the seven under par qualifying mark.
South Africa’s Ullrich van den Berg shot 68 to take the top card on a count back from Spain’s Adrian Otaegui and American Daniel Im on 18 under par while former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari came home in 32 for a 69 to win his card back on the limit.