Paul Dunne has been through a two-year injury nightmare, but even if he doesn’t seal a return to St Andrews for The 150th Open in this week’s Joburg Open, he’s convinced he can one day lift the Claret Jug.
The Greystones star (28) famously co-led The Open into the final round at the Old Course as an amateur in 2015, only to slip painfully to tie 30th after a nervy final round 78.
“That back nine wasn’t enjoyable, but the week as a whole was a really great learning experience for me,” he told The Open Podcast. “But I do still have a little thing in my head where I wish I could go and do it again.”
With The Open back at the Old Course for a historic 150th staging from July 14-17 next year, Dunne can get back there by finishing in the top 10 and ties this week.
“Yeah, it’s one of my big goals for the year to make sure I’m back in St Andrews in July,” he said today. “It’s great to have a shot at it this week.”
Getting back to the Home of Golf has been a goal since the return of The Open was announced.
“Obviously, I want to qualify for The Open every year,” he told the R&A. “Being at St Andrews, especially for me, I know I can play well there. Every time I play St Andrews, I play well.
“I like the golf course; it suits my eye, it plays to my strengths. It’s definitely a motivating factor. It will be a big target for next year to make sure I am back there.”
The problem is he picked up so many bad swing habits after undergoing hand surgery in late 2019 he’s fallen to 1,783rd in the world.
He’s also slithered so far down the European Tour pecking order, he needs to hit the ground running when the new DP World Tour season starts in Johannesburg today.
“Playing through all of it put me in some really bad habits,” Dunne explained. “But I feel I am starting to get a handle on what needs to be done to fix it and I am starting to see a turnaround, so that’s exciting.”
Dunne, who is joined at Randpark’s Firethorn Course by Jonathan Caldwell, Niall Kearney and Cormac Sharvin, hasn’t had a top-10 for two and a half years.
But the thought of getting back to The Open and regaining the form that saw him shoot 61 to beat Rory McIlroy by three shots to lift the 2017 British Masters is keeping him going.
“I really feel like my head, my game, is in a good place to play well in whatever tournaments I get into and try and build my career up again and move past where I was in 2017-2018,” he said.
Believing he can win The Open some day — “Of course I can, I wouldn’t play the game if I didn’t (think so)”— he’s determined to prove his doubters wrong.
“I am competitive,” he said. “I like when someone says, I bet you can’t do this. It kind of pushes my buttons. I thrive on that feeling when my game is good.”
As for the golf course this week, he added: “Randpark is a brilliant tree lines parkland in great condition but the greens have suffered from a water shortage I believe and have some disease in them so they aren’t the best. My game is getting better every week so I’m looking forward to testing it in a tournament this week.”