When Paul Dunne teed off looking to become the first man from the unpaid ranks to lift the Claret Jug since 1930, winning the Silver Medal would have been seen as little more than afterthought.
However the Irishman also missed out on that honour after one of the most competitive battles for the best amateur prize that the Open has ever seen.
Jordan Niebrugge, 21 and a business student at Oklahoma State College, took the medal with a round of 70 for an 11-under 277. Dunne had started the day on 12 under but he endured a tough day after sleeping on a share of the overnight lead after three rounds – the first amateur to do so since 1927.
Dunne was in the final pairing with the eventual runner-up Louis Oosthuizen but his challenge for the Open title had effectively fizzled out after two holes. Though he rallied and made it to the turn in par, he dropped six shots on the way back and finished six under following a chunked approach with his chip at the 18th, having walked away from his shot after a spectator heckled as he was about to hit. However he was given a great ovation as he tapped in for bogey and a 78.
The Irishman was roared on to the 1st tee with a lone piper audible in the distance, but his first shot betrayed nerves and he pushed it wide left. The next pulled up about a yard the wrong side of the Swilcan Burn and he failed to get up and down with a chip and putt.
His tee shot at the 2nd betrayed even more and after a slice off the tee which could not be located he played a provisional ball. But when no sign of that one was found he sent a third down the middle. Word then came through that his first ball was on a practice green and after taking a drop from the putting surface, Dunne fired a blind shot over a scoreboard and on to the fairway. He was lucky to get away with just a bogey.
The amateur prize was soon to slip from his grip and afterwards the disappointed Dunne, who was signing autographs and completing some final putting practice in the drizzle while Oosthuizen sheltered under an umbrella, said: “The last three days I just kind of got off to a steady start and today I had a couple shots that I hadn’t seen in any practice or any range sessions and it kind of just rattled me a little bit. I just never settled in after it.”
Niebrugge had salvaged his first trip to the UK last month by making it through final qualifying at the Hillside links after losing in the first round of the Amateur Championship and missing the cut in the Brabazon Trophy, and will head back to college at Oklahoma State with the Silver Medal in his hand luggage and hoping to again get the call to join the USA’s Walker Cup team for the match against Great Britain & Ireland at Royal Lytham in September.
The gap with the professional game is closing fast, and Jordan Spieth stated he would not be surprised to see an amateur win a major in the next decade or so.
Five of them made the cut here, with Ollie Schniederjans of Texas – who is turning professional at the Canadian Open next week – finishing on nine under alongside Shropshire’s Ashley Chesters, a Walker Cup squad member like Dunne. The Irishman will report to Lytham for practice on Tuesday but wants a few days to ponder his future. “The first three days were brilliant,” said Dunne. “I’m just kind of still in disappointment from today, but what an experience. The crowds have been absolutely brilliant. Big thank you to them.”
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