Sunday 22 April 2018

Coach-turned-caddy proves perfect sidekick for high-flying Paul Dunne

Alan Murray has proved to be a perfect fit for Paul Dunne in their great adventure over the Old Course.
Alan Murray has proved to be a perfect fit for Paul Dunne in their great adventure over the Old Course.

Dermot Gilleece

The rugged red beard is somewhat reminiscent of the late Luke Kelly, who would have been horrified by the trappings of elite golf. And even down to his snow-white Irish legs, Alan Murray seemed an unlikely member of the Open Championship's caddying fraternity at St Andrews.

Yet he has proved to be a perfect fit for Paul Dunne in their great adventure over the Old Course. Apart from the common background of Greystones GC, Murray happens to be the golf coach at the University of Alabama (UAB), from where Dunne graduated recently with a degree in investment finance.

After qualifying for his first Open last year, Dunne missed the cut at Hoylake, where the caddying duties were filled by his father Collie. On this occasion, however, he offered the role to Murray in a phone call to Birmingham, Alabama, after he had led the qualifiers at Woburn on June 30. Looking out over the game's most iconic venue, the bagman sought for the ultimate compliment. Finally, Murray suggested: "I'm a Liverpool fan and I've been to Anfield a few times. In golfing terms, this is my Anfield."

It's been a remarkable journey for Murray since days as a promising youth at Greystones led to a golf scholarship at the University of Toledo from 1998 to 2002. Then there was a flirtation with the professional tour before wild dreams gave way to harsh reality. "That was when I got extremely lucky," he said. "Jim Jasinski, a brother of my college coach at Toledo, arranged to get me a job as an assistant coach at UAB in 2010. In fact, he went so far as to give them some cash to pay for my placement. I like to think that Graeme McDowell (a distinguished graduate) also helped. You've got to be lucky because it's a route every failed player in the States tries to take."

The upshot of all of this was that Murray took over in 2013 as UAB coach from Alan Kaufman, who would have worked with McDowell. And foremost in his golf squad was Dunne, who had enlisted there two years previously.

"My only other experience of St Andrews was when I came here some years ago with some lads from Greystones," he said. "And I loved it at first sight; the very idea of walking down that street over there and onto the first tee.

"Now, to be back here with Paul is obviously very special. I've been asked a million questions about him and I keep emphasising his talent. He has the best short game I've ever seen, which comes from a great work ethic. An absolutely honest competitor in every way, especially in his efficient use of his time. He handles himself with so much class that I believe he's going to be successful in anything he does in life. Nothing would surprise me."

Finally, I wondered which was the more difficult job, coaching or caddying. Admirably self-deprecating, he replied with a smile: "Coaches are over-rated a little bit. At the end of the day it comes down to whether the player is sufficiently motivated and determined."

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