Golf is full of dreamers but even before he turned pro, Paul Dunne showed signs of a different mindset.
“I guess I’m a bit stubborn in a way,” Dunne said, when reflecting on his final season as an amateur in 2015.
“Once I set my mind to something, I like to go flat out at it. I don’t know if that’s a trait in everything I do but definitely it is in the way I practice.”
Mature, measured, even at 22, he was nothing if not meticulous.
Two years ago he had just signed off on his amateur career by helping Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup. In the lead-up to that victory at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s, Dunne spent a day at Portmarnock with his four Irish teammates also picked by GB&I.
Scheduled to meet at 10.30am that morning, Dunne was on the links before 8am. A trip from Greystones across the city can be manic at that hour so Dunne figured it best to get a lift with his dad, Collie, whose daily commute took him into town early.
After a morning run by the sea, Dunne showered and headed for the green.
By 9am he was immersed in a putting drill — 36 putts from 12 different locations at distances of three, six, and nine feet. He holed 33 of those putts, which was a new personal best at the time.
“I love practising,” he revealed afterwards. “Seeing the improvement is really enjoyable. Every player is going to do what they can to get better.” Except not every player displays such relentless desire for improvement.
In Dunne’s case, it was always apparent.
“He would have a stubborn application,” says Collie. “If he sets himself a task, he won’t stop until he completes it.
“If that entails six hours on the putting green, he’ll spend six hours on the putting green.
“He’s been like that since he was a young kid.”
During the summer of 2015, Paul Dunne became a headline act. His third round 66 at St Andrews catapulted him into the lead. The Open Championship was his to win and even as the Claret Jug slipped from his grasp during a Monday finale, his star had lit the sky above golf’s hallowed ground.
An amateur leading a major championship after 54 holes was a story worthy of international attention but in golf, the spotlight does not linger.
Only now, in the wake of his victory at the British Masters, has the spotlight returned.
Speaking after Sunday’s win, Dunne said: “I think before I played in that Open, I was hopeful that I would make a career out of playing golf, you know, but I wasn’t sure.
"I had had a decent amateur career, but I wouldn’t say by any stretch of the imagination that I was one of the best amateurs ever.” Beyond the acclaim, Dunne gained something far more valuable from that experience.
“I think the biggest thing for me was I got a lot of confidence in knowing I could make a living playing golf.
“And once I knew that, I knew that I could get through Q-School if I just played my own game.”
At Q-School, Dunne entered the largest field of his career. Among 700 hopefuls, he was chasing one of 27 cards. Only 4% would succeed. He began at stage one, and after 14 rounds and 258 holes, worked his way inside the top 25 after posting 11 sub-par scores during an eight-week odyssey.
Golf, a game so full of uncertainty, always boils down to numbers.
Speaking in 2015, Collie Dunne could not be sure what lay ahead for his son but he did know this much: “If hard work, dedication, and ambition were the three factors to make you successful at golf, he’s (Paul) certainly got those in abundance.”
In his two seasons as a professional, Dunne has developed resilience as well. This time last year he was fighting to retain his card. Those worries were put to bed early in 2017.
A cheque for €277,770, which guaranteed his card, was a significant consolation prize after losing a play-off to Edoardo Molinari at Trophee Hassan II in April. At Close House, with Rory McIlroy breathing down his neck, Dunne’s destiny remained in his own hands. Turns out, Collie was right all along.
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