In a profession where privilege and paranoia collide relentlessly, Paul Dunne understands how easily fear can become your only strategy.
He sees the awful blackness some people sink into, the golfers with snakes in their heads, withdrawing inward while the figures tighten around them like a noose. As he heads to the scene of his greatest triumph, Dunne admits that he has no way of knowing what he will find next week at Close House.
For now, the British Masters - which he won so spectacularly there in 2017 - is the only tournament nailed down on his schedule. Having lost his European Tour card last year, he is well down the list of priority invitees.
His game feels good, but competition golf is a world removed from the hypnotism of the range.
It's like plugging into something almost bigger than yourself. Ultimately, the only power you have is the power of self-knowledge, something with which Dunne seems well equipped. He is sanguine about what happened in the second half of last season. Having made seven cuts out of 10 between January and May, he managed just two of the next 14.
And, as the empty weekends piled up, the tendency to overwork supplanted smarter instincts.
If he had that time again, Dunne says he might even abandon practice.
"If I could go back and do it again, I'd probably put in no effort as opposed to all the effort I put in," he says now. "It was a technical issue, it wasn't mental. And, when you lose your strike, you lose your distance control.
"Then you start playing defensively because you're imagining where you don't want to miss. I just couldn't find what I was looking for and I was looking very hard. If I could have taken three months off, that would have helped. But it's not really an option.
"And in hindsight, if you can't get time off, it'd probably be better. . . for me anyway . . . just not practising. To just fall back into natural habits as distinct from almost trying to teach yourself how to play again."
Chasing that technical keyhole will take you to dangerous places because you cannot carry the intensity indefinitely. It empties you. The game is a graveyard of calloused hands and worn-out emotions, a place Dunne believes demands the comforts of humour.
He tells a story. . .
Having watched the closing holes of Shane Lowry's Open win on his mobile phone in the departure lounge of Malaga airport, he was on a United Airlines flight to America some weeks later when a stewardess mistook him for the new champion.
"She was being really nice to me the whole time, kind of overly nice," he recalls now, chuckling. "It was like she thought I was someone, which is a little bit awkward. Then she came up to me as we were getting off and asked if I would go in and meet the captain in the cockpit. When I went in, he started to congratulate me on winning The Open.
"So I just said thanks and moved on!"
You didn't tell them?
"I didn't really want to correct them, no (laughing). I don't really know whether Shane or I should be offended by that, but I'm sure one of us will be!"
He'd got home from Spain in time to join the Lowry celebrations for a couple of hours in 37 Dawson Street, but "didn't quite last the week-long pub crawl".
Dunne sees something in the Clara man today that he suspects escapes the wider public.
If anything, that week of celebration fed the caricature of an almost breezy natural talent getting by on soft, creative hands as distinct from a resolute work ethic. But great champions, clearly, must have both.
"Shane has always been a player who plays well on the big stage, who isn't afraid of winning," he explains. "And that's the most important thing for someone with his talent. He's a very hard worker, but he kind of has this public image of someone who goes about things a lot more casually than others.
"He actually puts in huge effort.
"Like Shane nearly won the US Open (in 2016) and I know he felt that he should have won it. So he'd been there before and it probably felt to him that he was due to win it. So he was dead right to celebrate it the way he did.
"If you don't enjoy that, what are you going to enjoy? You're going to be leading a fairly miserable life if you can't enjoy winning those things."
Lowry's altitude, naturally, feels an eternity away just now for someone of Dunne's current professional status - category 18 (between 116-132 in European Tour; 16-30 in Challenge Tour) - for whom access to tournament play can be exasperatingly elusive. He was considered a potential Ryder Cup candidate until last year's loss of form, having established a stroke average of 70.21 in 2017 and 70.94 in 2018.
The first amateur since 1927 to lead The Open after three rounds in 2015, he held off a hard-charging Rory McIlroy to claim that British Masters title just over two years later, chipping in on 18 for a staggering final round of 61.
McIlroy's subsequent assessment - "with Paul, we all knew it was when rather than if" - seemed to chime with the broad consensus. In a country accumulating golf Majors, Dunne was thought to be the next big thing.
Last season's sudden stalling of that momentum was then exacerbated by an injury to his right hand suffered in practice at his home club in Greystones. It required December surgery and a whole new landscape of psychological recalibration.
For a 27-year-old with accumulated career earnings of close to €3 million already, maybe the easy thing would have been to take refuge in self-pity.
After all, Pete Cowen's observation, "I spend my share of time around miserable millionaires," seems so readily plausible when TV boom mikes allow the viewer to eavesdrop on European or PGA Tour professionals.
Dunne admits to keeping a journal by his bed, so it seems only natural to explore that path of self-assessment with him.
After all, Mike Calvin's remarkable book with Thomas Bjorn, 'Mind Game - The secrets of golf's winners', is so unflinching in the light it shines on the game's capacity to tyrannise even its best players, how on earth can those further down the food chain remain emotionally stable?
So we toss some quotes in his direction:
"You need it too badly. You want it too badly. It matters too much to you!" - Graeme McDowell.
"It's a game of millimetres, which are magnified into miles when your mind is not working right!" - Justin Rose.
"It's a very complicated life. 80 per cent of guys playing can win if we take their brains out. Maybe only 10 per cent can win with their brains intact!" - Martin Kaymer.
"The line you tread between chaos and order is so fine!" - Eddie Pepperell.
He listens patiently, knowing implicitly where this is meant to take him. But it's not a place that Dunne finds any value in. He isn't a voracious reader, he says, and that kind of self-analysis isn't - he suggests - something that leads to any easy, generic answers.
He's dipped in and out of a sports psychologist's studio with Enda McNulty, but - sometimes - the only thing that makes psychological sense to him is an instinct to escape.
"I'm more of a box-set type of fella, burrowing my way through Netflix," he says. "Like, when I was playing bad, I was taking it home. So I was finding it hard to stop thinking about it. And I think the joy of when you're playing well is that you compartmentalise much, much better.
"Watching TV shows helps me get into a different world and forget about golf. Especially at that time (playing badly), I didn't think reading about golf was going to help me. I just kind of wanted to get my mind off it.
"All of those quotes reflect inner turmoil and nobody's immune to that. It's a very difficult game that feels easy for a very small percentage of the time that you play it. But I mean everyone goes through it, that's the main thing.
"And you take refuge in that a little bit, the fact that everyone has their difficult times mentally.
"But, to me, nothing beats personal experience. That's why I keep the journals. I mean you can never quite understand something until you go through it yourself. Reading about how other people cope . . . while it's interesting . . . it can't possibly help as much as sticking yourself in an uncomfortable situation and learning what works for you.
"Like, I've written pages in my journal on shots that no one would even imagine. And the best I've ever hit . . . I'd write nothing about them. Like that chip on 18 at Close House? That was a one-liner for me. It was nothing."
Returning to Newcastle now for his first tournament since last October's Portugal Masters (missed cut with rounds of 71 and 74) seems apposite for a man determined to accentuate the positives of his predicament.
When he thinks back to 2017, to those four autumn days of competition in Newcastle, he sees himself as someone ready to win, as distinct from merely hoping. The previous April, he'd been beaten in a play-off for the Trophee Hassan II title in Morocco by Edoardo Molinari, the Italian only making that play-off with an eagle on the 72nd hole.
The experience steeled him in a way he only fully understood when the opportunity to win presented itself again.
"You know, I thought I'd won that tournament," he says now. "And it got snatched away from me in the end. You can play brilliant golf and not win because someone else just does something exceptional. I felt like I was on the receiving end of that a little bit in Morocco and didn't want it to happen again.
"So when I was in with a chance to win the British Masters, I was very much, I guess, introverted that day. I was determined not to let anything slip.
"With so many people starting in or around the same score (12-under led; with six players (including Dunne) on 11-under; seven on 10-under), it's effectively a shoot-out.
"You go out there knowing that three-under is not going to do you a whole lot of good. It'll probably get you a good finish and maybe a nice cheque, but it's not going to win you the tournament.
"So my whole mindset now was, 'Enough is never enough!'"
Aggressive play can be almost counter-intuitive when in with a chance of winning, but his experience in Morocco conditioned everything about Dunne's approach to that final round. That and the wise counsel of caddie Darren Reynolds, who reminded him: "Play to play well. Don't play not to play poorly!"
For all that, he needed the angels on his side too en route to that nine-under 61.
"I remember hitting a wedge shot that was going to go long left on 11 and it would have been a really difficult up and down for par," he remembers. "But it hit a sprinkler and bounced to three feet for a tap-in birdie.
"You cannot script that."
A birdie on 17 courtesy of "three of the best shots I've hit consecutively under pressure" would catch far more traction in his journal than the pitch-in on 18. Because that pitch was executed, essentially, above a safety net.
"The only way I was getting into bother there was if I duffed it into the bunker in front of me," he smiles now. "It's a great memory, but I mean the job was done really."
He isn't the type to romanticise this return to Newcastle now.
Dunne spent much of lockdown with his girlfriend Sophie on a farm in Alabama (he has a degree in investment finance from the University of Alabama), his plan being to travel direct to the UK for what will be a vastly depleted European Tour. But denied visa extensions, they had to return home and complete a 14-day quarantine. He can't be sure, of course, but that experience may have conditioned him now for the strangeness of life on a much-changed Tour.
"I'm a little bit apprehensive about what it's going to be like in the bubble that they're creating for us," he says. "Because I think it could end up being quite boring.
"I'm interested to see how many people will stay, especially in that controlled environment. Where it's literally hotel-golf course-hotel. And you're not allowed leave.
"How many people will be able to last the six weeks without going mad and saying, 'Screw this! I'm going home!'
"I mean everyone's status is protected for next year, so there'll be people in a very secure position who won't enjoy the stringency of lockdown and might just decide to go home. It's not a situation I'm in, but it's something I'm curious to see.
"How many people fall down that trap."
He's been downloading box-sets for the experience and will take a ferry tomorrow rather than fly so that he can have the independence of his own car.
And, with health issues keeping Reynolds away from tournament golf, the experienced Gerry Byrne will be on his bag in Newcastle.
It's crystal clear that the loss of his card hasn't diminished Dunne's ambitions.
"You never really know how you're playing until you get that card in your hand," he admits. "I mean I'm still eyeing those 10 Tour slots into the US Open, but I think the biggest hurdle will be probably not trying too hard. The worst thing you can do is go out and force things.
"Whether I get into those tournaments or not, I'm going to spend those next six weeks in the UK anyway. If I'm in all of them, I'll play all of them.
"I suppose golf's the only sport where, if you don't perform, you don't get paid at all. Generally, you recognise that your performance cannot slip. Because if it does, everything goes away pretty quickly.
"That's a kind of unique side to it which is why, I think, everyone has a tendency to become a bit on the miserable side!"