Paul Dunne puts fairytale in the past on Open return as a professional

Ireland's Paul Dunne during the first round

Abiding memories of the 144th Open are inevitably a Monday finish and Zach Johnson holding the Claret Jug.

Yet, the St Andrews major had provided an earlier collection of compelling tales.

One of those was that of Paul Dunne, then a 22-year-old amateur with a world ranking of 1,615, who entered the limelight at the conclusion of the delayed third round while having a share of the lead. As notable as the fact Dunne was in this position at all was the ease with which he had acclimatised to it. “If we were playing an amateur event here, I wouldn’t be too surprised by the scores I shot,” Dunne said. “It’s just lucky that it happens to be in the biggest event in the world.”

Twelve months on, as he prepares to tee up as a professional at Royal Troon, the understated Dunne insists that what happened next was not a consequence of deep-rooted anxiety. And yet, the Irishman had looked noticeably tense when roared on to the 1st tee for a fourth round that was to end with a 78 and a share of 30th. Dunne was not even the leading amateur by close of play.

“I was nervous, of course I was nervous but nothing crazy,” Dunne says. “I honestly wasn’t any more nervous than I had been on the Sunday. It was a different day; more windy, cooler, a little wet and I just didn’t adapt. It feels like a long time ago now, I think just because I have played in so many events since.”

Conversation with Dunne reveals he is not particularly of a mind to glance back. When he does, there is pragmatism regarding why a batch of amateur players performed so well on the Old Course.

“There have been plenty of amateurs leading majors,” Dunne says. “There have been plenty of high finishes as well. To be leading was great, but then, I didn’t win. It did plenty of things for me, it showed what I can do and how I compete when I play well and that was a good sign. I realised that when I play well, I can play as well as anybody.

“St Andrews is generous off the tee. The greens are big. So it is a little more forgiving; the amateur guys can hit a couple of loose shots here and there but save par. The standard of the amateurs last year was really high anyway but the course probably lends itself to amateurs doing well.”

Dunne admits he “needs to do a bit of work on my game to compete on this stage” when the prospect of an Ayrshire follow-up is mentioned. “I have been struggling a little bit but there have been signs here and there that things are coming back.”

He smiles at his own post-third round sentiment from 2015, just as he stands by it. “It wasn’t that I had played at St Andrews a lot and shot low numbers but I had played a lot of similar courses and made good scores. I wasn’t surprised I was doing it there. Everyone else was but it is about the person playing, it is what they think themselves that makes the difference.

“There might be a camera and some people watching but it is the same thing, you have to hit shots and put a number on the board, the same as amateur golf. The standard of amateur golf is so high these days; to win top amateur events is a huge thing. If you are winning big amateur events regularly, you are ready to turn professional straight away. There was really no difference when I turned pro, it just meant more travel.”

At face value, Dunne’s professional integration has been a reasonable one. More than £110,000 is in the bank this season, with five top-20 finishes also secured. Dunne’s response to that is intriguing, perhaps the sign of an individual who has been used to academic, physical and golf brilliance. “I’m never happy,” Dunne says. “Top 20s are great but I haven’t really been in contention for anything. I am more worried about the state of my game at the minute than what I have done, I don’t really care about what has happened in the past.”

He should do; for three days, Dunne delved into the realms of fairytale. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010