Paul McGinley reckons Paul Dunne’s first two years as a professional golfer may have already eclipsed Rory McIlroy’s.
It’s a bold claim but one that perfectly encapsulates just how hot Dunne’s streak is on the course right now as he looks to build on his run of impressive form with a gruelling five-week run starting with a WGC debut in China and stops in Turkey, South Africa, Dubai and Australia.
Dunne claimed a maiden tour title when holding off the challenge of none other than McIlroy at the British Masters earlier this month and he has followed it up with decent showings at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Italian Open.
He has pocketed close to €1.5m already this term.
Dunne is up to 81st in the world rankings and 12th in Europe and the challenge now is to deal with the raised expectations, both in his own head and among the public at large, especially as we approach a Ryder Cup year and all the hyperbole that entails.
McGinley has been just as impressed by the Greystones man’s calm demeanour outside the ropes and he spoke yesterday at an event promoting the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National about the need for him to just continue being the same Paul Dunne.
“Professional golf is like snakes and ladders because you go up and you go down,” said McGinley whose status as one of the game’s leading thinkers was cemented by his winning captaincy at the 2014 Ryder Cup. “And he has been climbing the ladders very quickly.
“You could arguably say that his first two years as a professional have been more successful than Rory McIlroy’s. So he really has hit the ground running. If he stays focused on what he is doing and forgets about Ryder Cup and world rankings he’s on the way to being a right good player.”
McGinley has a point with the McIlroy comparison.
Dunne has won more money in his first two seasons as a pro than the Holywood man managed and it wasn’t until his third year on tour that McIlroy actually bagged his first title — the Dubai Desert Classic. It’s an interesting perspective.
Making the Ryder Cup won’t be easy, though.
The new rules — with four qualifying from the European Order of Merit, another quartet from the world rankings and the last four reserved for captain’s picks — will make it all the harder for a relative greenhorn to make it to Paris next September.
“So he has to focus on being one of those first four players in the Order of Merit and he is certainly very capable of it,” said McGinley.
McIlroy will certainly be there, barring disaster.
McGinley joked yesterday about how the 28-year-old once referred to the matchplay event as an exhibition but went on to talk about how central he has since become to the European team and he will clearly be a senior figure again at the 2018 edition.
That said, these are interesting times for McIlroy who is on an extended winter break to fully rehab a rib problem and reflect on a calendar year which passed with his failure to claim a single title for the first time in eight years.
Not just that, but a season in which a posse of players aged 25 and under have emerged all the stronger with PGA tour successes — not least Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas who claimed the British Open and US PGA titles respectively.
McGinley has no doubt that McIlroy can rise to the challenge of these ‘Young Turks’ and add to his haul of four Major titles to date, but he stressed the need for him to get fully healthy after rib, back and ankle complaints in recent times. “Of course he has the talent to do it. The arena has changed. Three, four years ago, when he was winning those major championships, he had a sixth gear. Now there’s a number of guys who play in that sixth gear.
“You talk about Brooks Koepka, you talk about Dustin Johnson. They play the game that Rory used to be the only one able to play. Now there’s five or six who play a similar game. So the edge that he has had has been matched by a number of those players.
“So this is going to be a real testing time for Rory in the next 4/5 years and it’s going to be fascinating to watch it evolve all. To give you a definitive answer, I can’t say. Is he good enough? Absolutely. Is he going to do it? I can’t answer that. I don’t know if Rory can, but it will be fascinating to watch.”
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