Sunday 21 January 2018

All-rounder Paul Dunne was destined to be a sporting superstar

Work ethic is key to his success

Paul Dunne plays an approach on the fourth hole at St Andrews
Paul Dunne plays an approach on the fourth hole at St Andrews
Paul Dunne at Greystones when he was 18

Barry Massey

I've just gone through the most nerve-wracking afternoon of my life. At around 4.45 yesterday Paul Dunne was leading the Open.

Just a couple of weeks ago I picked up a parcel at Greystones Golf Club left for me by Paul. It was his Irish Boys' shirts and jumpers. He wanted me to give them to the juniors at the club for prizes (if they would be interested).

It only seems like yesterday that Paul and his friends were the first 10-year-olds to join Greystones in 2003. The council had just brought the joining age from 12 to 10 after major lobbying from the junior committee to try and make the junior section more competitive.

Paul was an all-rounder: a good soccer player with Greystones United, a very good Gaelic footballer with Eire Og, and a brilliant tennis player who was on the Leinster coaching panel.

We started this new group of kids with basic lessons: grip, stance, back-swing and follow-through. Paul was hampered by his 'tennis swing' and he also had a ropey grip. The balance after the follow-through was what we concentrated on. He reminded me recently that I used to tell him to finish like Tiger.

Read more: Live Open Championship blog: Follow the final round fireworks

He played a Wicklow Cup match (foursomes matchplay) as an 11-year-old against the old enemy Delgany and I can still remember the roar when he held an absolute raker on the 17th green to win the match for Greystones.

We knew then that he was something special. No nerves, a hunger to win, and a head way beyond his years.

He also had a wonderful work ethic. He would be on the practice range at the club from early morning until late evening constantly consulting with our professional Karl Holmes.

He's hardly an overnight success; he started to make a name for himself in 2007 when he won the Connacht Boys U-15 Championship. He followed that with the Ulster Boys U-15 and the Holy Grail for Greystones golfers, the Wicklow Boys. He also helped Greystones win the U-15 inter-club champions that year.

A year later he was Ireland U-16 international, a member of the European Boys Amateur Championship, Boys Home International, Irish Boys champion, and he retained his Wicklow Boys crown.

In 2009 he retained his Irish Boys crown, the first boy ever to achieve this. He also played for the Irish boys in the European team championships and he captained the Irish boys in the home international. He also captained the GB&I team in the Jacques Leglise Trophy and became an Irish Youth International.

In 2010 he made his debut on the Irish senior team and he played on the boys and youths team. He also became Irish Youth champion. He became only the second Greystones player to win that championship, the other being Alan Murray, his caddie in the Open.

The following year Paul went to study in Alabama (UAB) Birmingham. Murray had just taken up a position on the golf coaching staff there and was a big influence on Paul's decision to go there.

He immediately made an impact in the United States and played his way on to the college team in a very short space of time. He returned to Ireland to win the 2013 East of Ireland at Baltray. After 118 years Greystones finally had a 'major' winner.

He qualified for the 2014 Open with a fantastic nine-under total at Woburn. Now, we had a player going to play in the Open.

Before his departure he played chipping competitions with a bunch of juniors at Greystones. The nice thing about that is that the majority of the children didn't know who he was, and more to the point, he didn't tell them.

I wasn't surprised on Thursday when he shot 69. I wasn't surprised when he shot another 69 on Friday. I worried about him having the day off on Saturday. But once again, Dunner has done the business.

Now, he is going into the final round of the Open joint leader on 12-under. If he goes on to win the Claret Jug it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But whatever happens, today the kids in Greystones will be told next Saturday to finish their swings like Dunner.

Barry Massey is the juvenile convenor at Greystones Golf Club

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