Paul Dunne returns to the stage of his finest hour as a professional today hoping to rekindle the spark that saw him chip in for a final hole birdie and a course record 61 at the British Masters in 2017.
The European Tour returns to Close House for the first of its six-part UK swing and with it, Greystones swinger Dunne returns to action after a rough time on and off the fairways of late.
In golfing terms at least, 2019 could hardly have been worse for him. Form abandoned the Wicklow man and a run of unimaginable results saw him lose his European Tour card. A wrist injury followed that proved stubborn to shift and as a perverse as it might be to think this way, when Covid-19 landed, it was timely thing for Dunne’s career at least.
Isolating for the most part in Alabama, the 26-year old had time to recover, rethink and rebuild from a hard slog last year and vowed not to return until he was 100% ready to do so.
“It was a year where everything went the opposite of what we were hoping for and I still felt we’d got ourselves into a position where I was unfortunate to be on the wrong end of the card line,” Dunne reflected.
“I struggled with my iron play all year.
“Even the good finishes I had – I was grinding them out. I just got steeper and steeper. It was a frustrating year because I knew what the issue was and all I was doing was putting the effort in to try to move it where I needed to move it – shallow things out – and nothing was working. As it got worse the frustration obviously builds and as I tried to shallow it, I got steeper.”
It’s a testament to Dunne’s ability that his game stood up as well as it did given the adversity he was suffering. With his confidence at an all-time low, results never improved but after an extended absence and with time to his refresh and unwind, he returns to action this week in a much better frame of mind.
“It puts things in perspective,” he said. “How I do is not going to affect the important things in life for me. The important things are in a good place for me right now. The rest just affects my sense of satisfaction and my bank balance but apart from that, I am pretty happy with how everything is going.
“So I am good. And I also feel I am going out there at the minute and just playing naturally and feeling good about where my game is headed and I am not stressed about it. Whether it will translate itself into good scores or not, we will have to wait and see.
“I am enjoying the feeling of going out and striking the ball well. And having an appreciation for the good shots and not brushing them off like they were nothing. It’s about enjoying the fact that the game is in there. I definitely have an appreciation for that after chasing it for so long. All I needed was six months off.”
It will very much feel like life’s come full circle for Dunne as he returns to the fairways today in Close House. Of course, he will hope that journey sees him lifting the trophy as he did in 2017 but moreso, this is a return to days preceding arguably his greatest on the fairways. Now Dunne has limited starts to impress, striving with every stroke to earn that return ticket to the Promised Land.
“It’s almost like turning pro again,” he said. “I’m going to get less starts than I would have most likely, so the starts I’m given I’m going to need to do something with them. It’s like being back in that position again at the very start. I know I’m going to get opportunities and they’re not going to last forever so I’ve got to take them.
“If I want the opportunities that other people are going to have then I need to play better than they do to get them. The only advantage I have now is I know the standard very well. I’ll go into the tournament knowing what numbers are going to be good and what won’t be enough.
“It’s very clear what’s standing in front of me, it’s only a matter of me going out and doing it. That’s where my focus is long term.”
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