Paul Dunne best of the Irish in sunny California
IT'S a long way from the Monterey Peninsula to Greystones, County Wicklow, but the pathway to a place in the sun at the $7million AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is well trodden by 'graduates' of the Golfing Union of Ireland nursery.
Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne, the Irish players in the 312-player starting field, are all alumni of the GUI, and they learned how to compete at home and abroad in the amateur ranks.
Greystones native Dunne, 23, was delighted to receive an invitation to compete among the galaxy of top players and celebrities gathered for this annual fun-fest that also carries serious money, World ranking points and FedEx Cup points.
He teamed up with former Royal and Ancient Chief Executive Peter Dawson while Harrington partnered JP McManus and Lowry was in action alongside Dermot Desmond, all of them starting the tournament on the par-71 Monterey Peninsula CC.
Of the three Irish professionals, Dunne did best on the opening day, scoring a four under par 67
He started with an eagle three on the 10th hole, his first, then bogeyed the next, but played steadily from there before notching another birdie on his 9th hole.
Three birdies in his first four holes on the back nine brought him to five-under par. He dropped a shot on the 7th, his 16th, but closed with two pars.
Harrington shot three-under par 68 and Lowry registered level par 71.
Their team scores were: Dunne/Dawson -9; Harrington/McManus -5; and Lowry/Desmond -3.
World number one Jordan Spieth, and US PGA champion Jason Day both played at Spyglass Hill (Par 72), and they each finished on one-under 71.
The early clubhouse leader was Chez Reavie, playing at Monterrey CC, on eight-under par.
Dunne's place in the field for the At&T event can only enhance the ambition of those who are coming up behind him through the GUI system, including Jack Hume of Naas GC.
Hume, 22, is on a brief stopover at home following his success in the South African Stroke Play championship. Next up is a trip with a GUI squad for the Nations Cup at Sotogrande, Spain later this month, followed by the Spanish Amateur championship.
Hume shot a final round 64 to win the South African Stroke Play on 19-under par, thus joining an illustrious group of past winners which includes South Africans Branden Grace, Trevor Immelman and Richard Sterne.
The victory in such a prestigious tournament augurs well for 2016, a year which Hume intends to be his last in the amateur ranks.
Watching his former Irish and Walker Cup team-mate Paul Dunne can only whet the appetite to test his game in the paid ranks.
"I've been playing with Paul now for a good few years.
"I've always known he's an excellent golfer. His game has really improved over the past 18 months and I'm sure he'll have a good first season as a pro," said Hume.
Meanwhile, competitors in the European Tour's Tshwane Open at Pretoria CC, South Africa struggled, with only 22 players breaking the course par of 70. South Africa's Justin Harding led on seven under-par 63.
Kevin Phelan of Waterford was best of the Irish on three-over par 73.
Ruaidhri McGee and Peter Lawrie each shot a six-over 76.
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke has announced that his Foundation will provide sponsorship and financial support to Breast Cancer Research for 2016 and 2017. The charity, in conjunction with the IL|GU will hold 'Play in Pink Golf Days' in clubs all over the country this season.
Tshwane Open, Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.30am
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.00pm