Money is the barometer of success in professional golf and while Paul Dunne would love to tee it up in The Open in a fortnight, his major challenge is to conquer the narrow fairways of Portstewart’s Strand Course this week and get his hands on as much of the $7 million (€6.17m) prize fund as he can.
The world No 165’s decision to skip final qualifying for Royal Birkdale at Woburn on Wednesday — a venue where he had twice led the qualifiers for golf’s oldest major — shows how seriously he is taking his second Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as a professional.
While it’s also a huge week for the other 16 Irishmen in the field — Shane Lowry badly needs to give is season a kick-start as the meat of the summer approaches — Dunne knows that a big cheque can solve his Royal Birkdale ‘problem’ and set him up for a huge run of big time appearances in 2018.
“I’m not overly fussed about The Open, to be honest,” the 24-year old Wicklow man said. “If I get into it, great.
“A few years ago getting in the Open would have been a big goal but now that I have played a couple just getting in has kind of gone off the list of goals.”
Dunne needs to be one of the top three non-exempt players inside the top-10 on Sunday night to earn his ticket to Royal Birkdale but at 27th in the megabucks Race to Dubai, he has money on his mind.
After picking up nearly €96,000 thanks to a sensational closing 65 in the HDN Open de France last Sunday, he arrives in Portstewart with a wet sail.
“Right now the Race to Dubai is of most value to me because the Top 30 get into The Open next year and Top 20 gets into WGCs, so that’s why it is more important in the long run,” he said, clearly hoping he can make The Open with a top finish or a win.
“If I can play well for the rest of the year in the big events, it sets me up for next year.
“I would rather do well here than qualify for the Open and miss the cut here and miss the cut at The Open.”
Asked if he can win, he shrugged. Golf is too unpredictable.
“I lost 10 balls in Paris last Wednesday,” he said. “If you had told me then I would shoot 65 around that course [on Sunday], I’d have said you were bonkers.”
Portstewart measures just 7,088 yards from the tips and if the wind doesn’t blow, Dunne sees low scoring and a huge emphasis on wedge play and good putting.
He also likes the left to right bias of many of the holes as he’s been working hard on his fade so he can find more fairways and then attack the course with short irons and wedges.
Lowry loves the look of the test too and while he timidly ventured a winning score in the low teens, he knows it may all come down who best takes care of the four, reachable par-fives.
“I think it’s a golf course you can be fairly aggressive on and make a lot of birdies,” said the 2009 champion.
“That’s kind of the game plan for the week is hit the driver, go down and find it and hit it again.
“The par 5s are very gettable. If you hit a good drive, you’re only hitting irons in. But if you hit it in the rough, then all of a sudden you’ve got a tricky lay up and you’re trying to avoid the fairway bunkers.”
Lowry also points to the 143-yard sixth and the 167-yard 15th as two “proper par 3s that are quite tricky but really good holes.”
After missing the cut in Paris last week, he needs a decent week to go into The Open with some confidence.
Having won as an amateur in 2009, he’s under no pressure to win again but would love to do so.
“I’ll be forever grateful for The Irish Open, I suppose.
“I think no matter what I do, if I ever win a major, it will never top that week,” he said.
“I’d love to win The Irish Open again. What would it take? I don’t know. If I knew that I would be able to bottle it and sell it for a lot of money I think.”
The key for the Offaly man is to not to overthink things.
“For me, it’s about going out and not getting in my own way, giving it my best and seeing what happens,” he said.
Given the quality of the field — five of the world’s top 20 are present in the shape of world No 2 Hideki Matsuyama, No 4 McIlroy, No 11 John Rahm, No 13 Justin Rose, and No 15 Tommy Fleetwood — a quality winner is almost guaranteed.
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