Like any young person who has ever picked up a golf club in earnest, Paul Dunne has surely dreamed of walking down the 18th hole of St. Andrews on a Sunday evening leading the British Open.
The difference between him and the majority of us is that he has now realised that dream. Unfortunately, a substantial weather delay means that he won’t wake up Monday morning with the Claret Jug in his arms but there is nothing to say that he won’t have it in his clutches this evening after the first Monday finish since 1988.
His record score for an amateur after 54 holes, of 12 under, was matched by his playing partner Louis Oosthuizen and perennial major contender Jason Day and leaves him in prime position to be the first amateur winner since Bobby Jones way back in 1930. Three rounds in the 60s this week (another record for an amateur) suggests that he has the game and the mental strength to give the worlds top players a run for their money.
A winner on the NCAA circuit while attending the University of Alabama, 2010 Irish Youths Amateur champion and member of the victorious European team of the most recent Palmer Cup (the college equivalent to the Ryder Cup), Dunne has experience of playing under pressure but it won’t compare to what he will face in the final round of the Open. Playing in the final group itself brings enormous attention and its own pressure but he seems to take it all in his stride. His aim tomorrow on the first tee is “to make contact with the ball”, not a bad plan, and no doubt he will. If it turns out to be the first of 66 shots as it was today, the chances are he will be a Major winner tonight.
In what is one of the most tightly congested leaderboards for an Open in years, there are many, many players who will feel that Paul Dunne will not be the player to beat. There are seven major winners within three shots of the young Irish man, including Oosthuizen, the last player to win The Open at St Andrew’s. 24 players within 5 shots, all of whom will fancy their chances with a decent final round. World number 2, Jordan Spieth is lurking one shot back and will be looking to add to his two majors this year and keep the Grand Slam on track. Nobody would bet against him tomorrow, given the flawless golf he has played this year.
Paul Dunne may be a year older than Spieth but if anything he can draw inspiration from the younger American. Spieth has rewritten the rulebooks on mental strength this year. Apart from an uncharacteristic blemish on the 71st hole in the US Open at Chambers Bay, where he took double bogey while looking uncatchable, he has shown a level of maturity and self-confidence that outshines even Tiger Woods in his early years. Two years on tour gives him an obvious edge over Dunne, but if the Irish man can draw on the same calmness he showed today he could just do the unthinkable and succeed Rory McIlroy as the Champion Golfer of 2015.
His playing partner this afternoon will be Louis Oosthuizen, the same pairing as the third round, something that will surely help ease the nerves. They looked to have a nice camaraderie as they shot a combined 11 under today. They probably won’t share the same easy chat tomorrow, especially if they are both still in contention going down the back nine but having outscored the South African yesterday, Dunne will have nothing to fear but fear itself today.
This may sound like a bizarre statement but the player that might give Dunne most to worry about is the fellow amateur, Jordan Niebrugge. His 67 today, leaves him three shots behind the leaders and a very real challenger to Dunne for the Silver medal. Common sense, logic and 85 years of history suggest that an amateur will not sit aloft the leaderboard after 72 (or more if a playoff is required) holes. Dunne himself is on record as saying that he is in the final year as an amateur and that winning the silver medal would be a nice way to go out and after three brilliant rounds of golf it would be a shame if he were to go home empty handed. A slow, or worse, a poor start today, especially if he were to trail Niebrugge early could pose as much as a test for the young Dubliner as leading going down the backstretch might.
Having gone out with “69 in his head this morning but after a good start it shifted”, his ability to change his targets mid round will surely stand to him, no matter how he starts. His caddy, Alan Murray, appears to be a very calming influence and will be vital in keeping him focused. Leading The Open after 54 holes brings a certain level of pressure no matter who you are but pressure seems to be having less and less influence on the youth as time goes on. They thrive on it and appear to love the limelight. Dunne will have lots of competition for that limelight, which will give us, the viewers a wonderful few hours of tv golf.
As with any tournament that is in its 144th edition, there are lots of facts and stats to support and discourage the likelihood of an amateur champion. However, maybe the only piece of history Paul Dunne should carry into the final round is not that the last amateur winner of The Open was in 1930 but that the last amateur win on either the US PGA or European Tours was just 6 years ago, at a wet and windy links course; by22-year-old Irish man.
Golfing history has been made at St Andrews since the early 1400’s but if Paul Dunne goes on to emulate Shane Lowrys amateur success on the pro tours, his story might just top the lot.