Greystones' Paul Dunne became the first Irish amateur to come through Final Qualifying for The Open for 27 years when he carded a brace of 67s to win the qualifier at Woburn on 10 under par and seal his place at Royal Liverpool — and all this after nearly missing his tee time.
The 21-year old arrived on the first tee with just a minute to spare ahead of his opening round but managed to retain his composure to claim a three-shot victory on ten under par 134.
“It gave me a bit of a fright,” admitted the Irish International who was part of the winning European collegiate team at last week’s Palmer Cup at Walton Heath.
“I misjudged the time it would take me to get from the clubhouse out to the tenth tee but fortunately I managed to hit my opening tee shot straight down the middle.
“I played really solid golf all day”, he added. “It has been an incredible couple of days both here and at Walton Heath and it’s something I will never forget.”
“This is the first time I have ever played in an event like this so I wasn’t sure what would be a good score. I just decided to press and see what happened and it turned out very well.”
Dunne, who has just completed his junior year as a rising star for the University of Alabama Birmingham, dropped just three three shots to win by three strokes from England's Oliver Fisher, leaving Rhys Enoch, Australian Jack Wilson and amateur Tomasz Anderson (a) to play off for the third qualifying spot after they finished on six under par.
The threesome went down the first extra hole where Enoch over shot the green with his approach from behind a tree but then holed a slick 25-foot downhill pitch for a winning birdie three.
Dunne now joins Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry in the field at Hoylake from July 17-20, hoping to become the first Irishman to win the silver medal awarded to the leading amateur since McIlroy finished tied 42nd behind Harrington at Carnoustie in 2007.
McIlroy in 2007 remains the only Irish amateur to make the cut in The Open since Joe Carr was 33rd at Royal Birkdale in 1965.
Since 1999, McIlroy, Alan Dunbar, Brian McElhinney (twice), Michael Hoey and Paddy Gribben have all qualified for The Open thanks to their wins in the British Amateur or European Amateur championship.
But Dunne is the first to come through a strokeplay qualifier since a 19-year old Eoghan O'Connell made it to the 116th Open at Muirfield by firing a course record 65 at North Berwick and then equalling that score in the second round to win his place in the field.
Today's result caps a remarkable few days for Dunne, who beat world amateur No 3 Robbie Shelton in his singles to help Europe's college stars beat the US to capture the Palmer Cup at Walton Heath on Saturday.
“Walton Heath was very firm and linksy but Woburn was very soft, almost target golf, so it suited the game I have been playing for the last few years in college in America,” said Dunne, who had his father Collie on the bag and promises to keep him for Hoylake.
“I hit my irons really well and gave myself a lot of chances so it was pretty stress free to be honest. I putted really well inside 10 feet but I just hit a lot of iron shots close and only holed one putt outside 10 feet.
“The Palmer Cup was great because it got the juices flowing and to pull off some shots down the stretch there was quite reassuring for my game.
“I’ve never been to an Open but I’ve watched every second on TV, so it will be a fantastic learning experience. But the first order of business is to focus my mind on the European Team Championships next week. Then I’ll start to think about Hoylake.”
Dunne was one of nine Irishmen chasing 12 spots on offer at four qualifying venues across the UK but the only one to succeed with Muskerry's Niall Turner (73-72) finishing 26th, 11 shots behind him at Woburn.
Rathmore's Alan Dunbar was 17th at Hillside, eight shots outside a four-man playoff for the three qualifying spots with Waterville's Mark Murphy (74-76) 38th at Gailes Links in Scotland.
At Sunningdale, England’s Matthew Southgate, Chris Rodgers and South Korea’s Byeong-Hun An qualified. At Gailes Links, three Scottish golfers earned their passage to The Open, Marc Warren, Jamie McLeary and Paul McKechnie. At Woburn, the places went to amateur Paul Dunne of Ireland, and England’s Oliver Fisher and Rhys Enoch, and at Hillside the three qualifers were John Singleton and Christopher Hanson of England and Oscar Floren of Sweden.
Sunningdale proved the most testing of the four qualifying venues where only two players managed to break par. A total of 288 players competed for 12 places at The Open, which will be played from 17-20 July at Royal Liverpool.
Southgate carded an opening one-over 70 before charging to the top of the leaderboard with a closing 64 for a four-under-par 134 winning aggregate. The 25-year-old finished one stroke ahead of An, who shot 69, 66 for a 135 total.
“It’s amazing, I must have tried to qualify for The Open 10 times since I got down to scratch as an amateur,” said Southgate, whose final round contained six birdies and just the one dropped shot at the 11th.
“I have been working hard with my coach, my preparation has been good and I’m just delighted it all came together.”
An was the only other player at Sunningdale to break par. Despite starting his second round with a bogey, the former US Amateur champion (2009) rallied with four birdies and no dropped shots.
“I played steady. It’s the sort of course you need to have a game plan and I stuck to it, you have to be patient,” said the 22-year-old, who is looking forward to a week’s break back home in Orlando after four months on the road.
Instead of playing on the Challenge Tour in Switzerland in a couple of weeks, An will now return to England to compete in his fourth Major. In 2010 he played in The Open at St Andrews, The Masters and the US Open after his US Amateur success.
Rodgers had an agonising wait before realising his dream of playing in The Open for the first time. Despite bogeying the final hole, the London professional shot 67, 72 for a one-over-par 139 to secure the third and final spot.
“It’s a dream come true. I can really look forward to Hoylake and see what happens,” said the 38-year-old.
Former World Cup winner Marc Warren came with a late surge to move ahead of long-time leader Jamie McLeary for top spot at Gailes Links in Ayrshire.
Helped by a course-record 63 in the morning, McLeary set a formidable target of seven-under on a course that became more and more fiery in the glorious sunny conditions.
Scotland’s Warren, a two-time European Tour winner, had set out in the afternoon six shots off the pace in his bid to secure a second successive Open appearance.
But a 64, coupled with a 72 from McLeary, who got off to a shaky start in his second round saw the 33-year-old Glaswegian finish in top spot by two shots on nine-under 133.
“I was really confident coming in here as it’s a course I play a lot,” said Warren after signing off in style in the afternoon by holing from a greenside bunker for a birdie.
“It means a lot to get back into The Open. Last year was my first taste of it. But I was frustrated as I was close to making the cut and you want another shot at it.”
McLeary, also 33 and from Bonnyrigg in Midlothian, will be making his Open debut, as will former PGA EuroPro Tour number one Paul McKechnie, who closed with a 67.
The 37-year-old secured the last spot up for grabs after beating Welshman Rhys Davies (71) with a birdie at the first play-off hole after they finished tied on three-under.
“To have achieved this after being 40 to the bend in the morning is incredible,” admitted McKechnie, who is attached to the Braid Hills Golf Centre in Edinburgh.
Birkenhead factory worker John Singleton, Challenge Tour players, Chris Hanson from Yorkshire and Oscar Floren, qualified at Hillside after a four-man play-off when Yorkshire amateur Nick Marsh couldn’t match par at the second extra hole.
Marsh - in the last match on course - made a birdie on a final hole for a second successive 69 to make it into the four-man play-off on six-under-par 138.
First time around the quartet all made par but Marsh found a bunker off the tee at the second and failed to make par and his dream was over.
Singleton, who kept his PGA status but also works in a resin factory, was absolutely delighted to have made it to Royal Liverpool, which is only five minutes from his Wallasey home. He added a best of the afternoon 66 to his opening 72.
“It will be amazing to play in The Open, and I expect I’ll have a lot of support from my friends and family,” said Singleton.
As for Hanson, he has finally made it to The Open after he too carded a pair of 69s.
“I’ve reached final qualifying several times before but the nearest I came was here (Hillside) a few years ago when I missed out by three strokes. It’s unbelievable, a dream come true and I’m delighted.”
Floren, who added a 71 to his opening 67, has played in The Open twice, St Andrews in 2005 and last year at Muirfield.
“I’ve been struggling a bit on the Challenge Tour to be honest,” said Floren. “But I played well today and hopefully I can carry it into this week's tournament in Germany and on to Hoylake.”
The next events in The Open Qualifying Series, which comprises 14 events in nine countries on five continents, are the Greenbrier Classic on the PGA Tour and the Alstom Open de France on the European Tour from 3-6 July.
At Woburn (Par 72): 1 Paul Dunne 67 67 (Qualified), 2 Oliver Fisher 67 70; 3 Rhys Enoch (after 3-man playoff); T26 Niall Turner 73 72.
At Hillside (Par 72): 1 John Singleton, Chris Hanson, Oscar Floren (Q). T17 Alan Dunbar 70 70 76, T39 Richard Kilpatrick 75 78; T49 Nicolas Brennan 77 79, NR Ruaidhri McGee 73 NR.
At Gailes Links (Par 72): 1 Marc Warren 69 64 (Q), 2 James McLeary 63 72 (Q), Paul McKechnie (Q). T38 Mark Murphy 74 76; 58th Patrick Devine 73 82 .
At Sunningdale New (Par 72): 1 Matthew Southgate 70 64 (Q); 2 Byeong Hun An 69 66 (Q); 3 Christopher Rodgers 67 72 (Q); T38 David Rawluk 74 75.