Family affair for Dunnes as Paul chases prestigious silver medal
IN the bucket list of things a father can do with his son, caddying for him at The Open Championship must figure right at the top.
On numerous occasions, Collie Dunne has carried his son Paul's golf bag but described the experience of doing so in the company of the game's brightest stars and in front of packed galleries at Hoylake this week as: "Ridiculous – actually it's a little bit surreal."
The action doesn't start for real until tomorrow afternoon, when accomplished Greystones amateur Paul tees it up in the first round of golf's oldest and greatest Major with Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain and America's Mark Wiebe.
Yet the 21-year-old and his dad have already enjoyed a couple of eye-popping moments, like on Monday when world No 1 Adam Scott suddenly joined them on the first tee. Or at six yesterday, when they called Tiger Woods and his companions in the fast-moving group behind to play through.
"Playing with Adam probably was the best thing that could have happened," admitted Irish international Paul. "It dropped me in at the deep end. I didn't know he was going to be there. He just walked up to the tee."
He couldn't have asked for a better or more appropriate chaperone over those first two days at Royal Liverpool than Shane Lowry (27), who's been carving out a lucrative career on the European Tour in the five years since his sensational victory as an amateur at the Irish Open.
Meanwhile, US Open champion Graeme McDowell, the greatest star to emerge from Dunne's American college, the University of Alabama in Birmingham, played with them yesterday.
"Graeme and Shane are relaxing guys to play with, pretty chilled-out," said Paul. "Graeme advised me at the end to stay patient during the week and enjoy it.
"That was my plan anyway, just to enjoy it. It's a good experience," he added. "I don't usually get that flustered. I don't know how I'll handle myself this week but we'll see on Thursday.
"Until then I'll keep going through my routines and see where it leaves me. Whatever happens, this week will stand to me. Every experience is a good experience if you learn from it and use it in the right way."
Safe words from a level-headed young man who will cap a year of high achievement should he make the weekend at Hoylake and challenge for the silver medal awarded to the leading amateur at The Open, an honour achieved only by two other Irishmen, Joe Carr, at Hoylake in 1956 and Lytham in '58 and Rory McIlroy at Carnoustie in 2007.
Two tournament victories with UAB earned former Blackrock College boy Dunne the 'Player of the Year' title in the USA Conference and helped propel his college into the NCAA Championship finals.
During the past eight weeks of non-stop tournament play, he scored the match-clinching singles point for Europe's Universities against the US in the Palmer Cup; surged to a stunning three-stroke victory in Open final qualifying at Woburn and played a prominent part in Ireland's runner-up finish at last weekend's European Team Championships in Finland.
"This is my ninth event in a row," he admitted. "I'll have a little break after this but it's good to keep some form going. I struggled yesterday, really tired after the travel but I played a little bit better today."
Dunne's proud father, a Dublin newspaper executive who played out-half and full-back for UCD, Greystones and Connacht, has enjoyed achievements of his own on the sports field, including victory over Munster at Thomond Park.
"That was great but nothing like this," said Collie. Dunne Snr credits the whole family, wife Michelle and Paul's elder siblings Alison and David, with giving him the golf bug, adding, "but nobody pushed him".
"We encouraged him to play every sport. Paul played Gaelic and was on the Leinster tennis panel but he took to golf and enjoyed it."