Having stared down the best players in the world at the Open Championship, Dunne will wear the GB&I colours tomorrow when the home team take on the US in the 45th Walker Cup match at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s. One of five Irish in what is a record number of home-grown players in the Great Britain & Ireland team, Dunne will not be distracted from the task at hand.
“Obviously it’s a lifetime ambition for anyone from Great Britain and Ireland to make the team. It’s brilliant to have our names on the team but there’s a job to do still,” says the 22-year-old from Greystones.
Since he was first named on a Walker Cup squad five years ago, making the grade for GB&I has been an ambition.
“I was maybe put on the squad for a bit of morale because I was young. I don’t think I had any chance to make the team. Ever since the last Walker Cup, I didn’t make the team but I wouldn’t have been that close. Seeing Gavin (Moynihan) and Kevin Phelan make the team (in 2013), who we play with all the time, and hearing their feedback on it, the last two years it’s definitely been in our head. Even when I played St Andrews Trophy last year, it was almost like it was a warm-up for this year so it’s been in our mind.”
Moynihan returns for his second Walker Cup at Lytham while Cormac Sharvin, Gary Hurley and Jack Hume complete the five-man Irish contingent. To put their selectoon in context, it is more than 60 years since Joe Carr was one of four Irish players on a 12-man team in 1951.
“It’s a huge achievement and quite significant to look on in history terms but when we were thinking what team was going to be picked, we were kind of expecting five. In that respect it wasn’t really a surprise. It was just something normal. All five of us are good players, we all expected to play well this year and make the team,” says Dunne, who first came into the GUI system at U14 level.
At every grade, he has excelled but to lead the Open Championship after three rounds takes a special kind of talent. And yet the life of a modern amateur is so hectic there is never time to stand still. The day after the Open at St Andrews, Dunne was travelling to Lytham for two days of Walker practice.
“It wasn’t ideal to be the day after but it was great to get down and see the course because I hadn’t played it (Lytham) in five years,” said Dunne, who is hoping to sign off on his amateur career with a win this weekend.
“I think there’s just more of a comfort level on the golf course (since the Open). Like the US Amateur and European Team Championships, I’d usually be quite nervous for the first few holes. It would usually take you a while to settle in. And now there’s just more of a relaxed feeling from the start so it makes it easier to take momentum from practice rounds into tournaments. I guess being exposed to the pressure of the Open, obviously I still feel pressure but it feels more manageable”.
The American team, with US Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau — who took out Paul Dunne in the quarter-finals at Olympia Fields — leading their challenge, will be bidding to retain the Walker Cup after their 17-9 victory in New York two years ago.
Play gets underway with the first foursomes session tomorrow morning followed by eight singles matches in the afternoon. There is another foursomes session on Sunday morning followed by 10 singles matches on Sunday afternoon. 13.5 points is the magic number needed to win the match outright.
Meanwhile former Open champion Paul Lawrie threatened to record the first 59 in European Tour history before settling for an impressive opening 61 in the KLM Open yesterday.
Starting from the 10th at Kennemer Golf Club, Lawrie carded an eagle and four birdies to race to the turn in 28 and picked up further shots on the second, sixth and seventh.
That left Lawrie needing to birdie the last two holes to break the magical 60 barrier, albeit on a par-70 and with preferred lies in operation, but the 46-year-old Scot pulled his tee shot on the eighth into a greenside bunker and did well to save par from eight feet.
Another par on the last meant Lawrie had to be content with the lowest round of his European Tour career and a two-shot lead over English trio James Morrison, David Horsey and Robert Rock, Dutch home favourite Joost Luiten and Argentina’s Tani Goya.
Lawrie, who recorded his first top-10 of the year by finishing tied for sixth in Denmark three weeks ago, had pulled out of a pre-tournament pro-am on Tuesday suffering from a back injury.
Low scoring was the order of the day with Mikko Ilonen and Morten Orum Madsen three off the lead on six under, while Paul McGinley, playing alongside Lawrie, and Tom Watson both shot 69.