Rise of Paul Dunne: Greystones to British Masters champion
The 24-year-old’s maiden win the product of years of hard work and prodigious talent
Cast your mind back to the four days from the 16th to the 20th of July, 2015.
At the Open Championship in St Andrews the world is sitting up and taking notice of a 22-year-old Irish amateur from Greystones. His name is Paul Dunne and he is making history in becoming the first amateur to lead going into the final round of the oldest championship in golf since 1927.
It is the first that most people have heard of the talented young player with a silky smooth short game and a putting stroke destined to bring success.
The final round goes as most would expect the final round to go for an amateur leading the Open Championship and Dunne finishes in a tie for 30th as Zach Johnson takes home the claret jug. But he’s made a name for himself now and the golfing world expects.
Fast forward two years and the now 24-year-old professional has justified those expectations. In shooting a final round 61 – the lowest final round to win on the European Tour or PGA Tour this year, matched only by Hideki Matsuyama at the Bridgestone Invitational – he held off four-time major winner Rory McIlroy and took home the British Masters title for his first professional win and a healthy €562,500 pay cheque, bringing his total winnings for the season up to €1.3 million and catapulting him up to 12th in the Race to Dubai standings. It also means that his European Tour card is secure for the next two seasons.
His world ranking of 192 is also set to improve dramatically and he may well move inside the top 100, creeping ever closer to the glorious surroundings of the top 50 which allows players to pick and choose their schedule thanks to full exemptions for all of the majors and world golf championships.
Speaking of WGCs, Dunne’s win also means he has booked himself a place at the megabucks HSBC Champions event in China next month.
Many would say it’s a rise that has been coming since that fairytale week in Scotland but others would say it’s been coming since even earlier.
Dunne was long fancied to be one of Ireland’s main golfing hopes since turning heads with a stellar amateur career and a scholarship to the University of Alabama after graduating from Blackrock College.
A US College Golfer of the Year title, a quarter-final appearance at the US Amateur and a degree in business finance later and he was making a name for himself stateside.
Then came the Open Championship and, two months later, the Walker Cup.
In a team containing five Irish players, the Great Britain and Ireland squad outclassed their US counterparts, winning 16 and a half to nine and a half while Dunne capped off a fairytale year by holing the winning putt.
The professional ranks beckoned and, directly after that Walker Cup win, Dunne made the switch.
Now playing for a living, things were always going to get tougher. There is no shortage in stories of hot prospects entering the paid ranks and never fulfilling their potential. Even a player of the talent of Justin Rose missed his first 21 cuts in a row after turning pro amidst much fanfare in 1998. However, Dunne was not fazed. A tied-19th finish on his professional debut at the Dunhill Links event in Scotland set him up for a pay day of €47,536 to take into the dreaded q-school.
Often described as the fifth major, qualifying school is the toughest challenge any professional golfer will ever face. With over 1,000 entrants each year and three stages to navigate it’s as ruthless a sporting arena as you will find anywhere. Players are, quite literally, playing for their livelihoods.
Starting at the second stage, the chance of securing full European Tour playing rights are slim. But that’s exactly what Dunne did. After negotiating a six-man playoff to book his place at the final stage he comfortably won his card with a tied-16th finish over the six rounds at PGA Catalunya in Spain.
Now it was time for the real business. The 2016 season proved to be quite a battle with eight missed cuts in 23 events meaning that it came right down to the wire as to whether he would keep his card but some good results late in the season meant that he finished 106th on the Race to Dubai – inside the top 110 required to maintain full playing rights.
After getting one full season under his belt it was time to kick on. A maiden win almost came in Morocco at the Trophee Hassan II in April, only to be denied by Edoardo Molinari in a playoff.
Further good results followed with four top 15 finishes and just two missed cuts meaning that he had secured his playing rights for next year long before pitching up at Close House for the British Masters. Final rounds of 65 and 66 at the KLM Open in his last outing showed that the good form was there if he could just marry the mental side and get over the line.
On Sunday outside of Newcastle, with McIlroy hot on his heels, the 24-year-old from Greystones proved that he could do exactly that.
The rise and rise of Paul Dunne shows no signs of stopping.