St. Andrews Sensation Dunne Meets His Own Expectations
August 19, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill.
By Dave Shedloski
After sharing the 54-hole lead in the Open Championship at St. Andrews last month, a feat no amateur golfer had accomplished since Bob Jones in 1927, Paul Dunne faces more pressure than anyone else in the 115th U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields Country Club.
That’s not the way he sees it, though.
“I kind of felt the opposite, to be honest,” Dunne, a native of the Republic of Ireland, said Tuesday after comfortably making it through two rounds of qualifying to reach the match-play portion of the championship that started on Wednesday. “Being exposed to such a pressure-packed environment makes something like playing in the European Amateur last week and the U.S. Amateur this week a little less nerve-wracking. I found myself a little less nervous. I found it more settling than anything else.”
Dunne, 22, has had a bit of a whirlwind celebrity experience since the 144th Open Championship, won by Zach Johnson in a playoff over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman. Dunne shared the 54-hole lead at 12-under 204 with Oosthuizen and Jason Day, who went on to win last week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis. A closing 78 amid the intensity of the final round of a major championship left him tied for 30th as Jordan Niebrugge grabbed the low-amateur honor.
Niebrugge, of Mequon, Wis., set the record for low score by an amateur at 11-under 277 in tying for sixth place with Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Danny Willett. But he missed the match-play cut this week at Olympia Fields with a pair of 73s.
Dunne added a 1-under 69 Tuesday afternoon to his opening 71 on Monday for even-par 140, earning the No. 18 seed for match play. He squared off against Robbie Ziegler, of Madison, Wis., in Wednesday’s first round.
“I just thought if I shot par or better today, I'd get through,” said Dunne, a solidly built spark plug of a man who is drawing a few extra fans and the attention of the media at Olympia Fields. “I played some really good golf in there and some terrible stuff, as well. But for the first 14 holes anyway I managed to keep the bogeys off my card, which was pleasing, considering I hit a lot of bad shots. I scrambled around and my short game was good. A couple bogeys coming in, but it was nice to get birdie on the last to secure it.”
After such a celebrated run in the Open Championship, Dunne had a hectic schedule of media interviews and activities, but the last few weeks have been back to normal. As a sign, consider that he is without a caddie this week at Olympia Fields, pushing around a “trolley.” Though he is a member of the Irish national team, the budget does not allow for using a caddie unless it comes out of his own pocket.
It hasn’t slowed Dunne down so far. Neither has the onus of being one of the pre-championship favorites. Given a special exemption into the U.S. Amateur field by the USGA after his play at St. Andrews, Dunne is focused on the task at hand, not on what anyone thinks.
A recent graduate of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he was an All-American and finished fifth in the NCAA Division I Championship, Dunne said his goals are to win this week, make the Walker Cup Team for Great Britain and Ireland, and then, perhaps, see what awaits him in the professional ranks.
“I don't really think about anyone else’s expectations,” he said. “I stick to my own and performance goals and it doesn’t impact me.”
His experience at St. Andrews, playing that last round with Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 Open Championship on the Old Course, was a valuable day in his golf life.
“I noticed how relaxed he was – even coming down to the last when he needed birdie to get into the playoff,” Dunne said. “It was almost like he was out for a stroll playing at home in South Africa. Just to see how comfortable someone can be in that environment is something I need to get better at.”
This would be a great place to start.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.