Paul Dunne qualified for his fourth major, his second as a professional and his first US Open when he came through a seven-man playoff for five spots in Sectional Qualifying at Walton Heath.
Having qualified for three successive Open Championships—winning qualifiers at Woburn in 2014, 2015 and 2016—the 24-year-old from Greystones took another giant step in his career when he joined Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry in the field for the second major of the year at Erin Hills in Wisconsin from June 15-18.
Eleven players qualified automatically on 10-under-par or better with Aaron Rai topping the leaderboard by a shot on 14-under from China’s Hantong Li as Pádraig Harrington came up 10 shots shy after rounds of 77 and 68.
Frenchmen Alexander Levy and Joël Stalter, Welshman Bradley Dredge, Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, England’s Eddie Pepperell and Andrew “Beef” Johnston and South Africans Oliver Bekker, Brandon Stone and George Coetzee also made it but another seven players had to playoff for five spots.
They included Dunne — the man who led The Open into the final round as an amateur at St Andrews in 2015 — after he made had two eagle twos and 11 birdies in rounds of 67 and 68 on the New and Old Courses respectively to finish in a seven-way tie for the last five places on nine-under par.
Five of the seven birdied the first extra hole but Dunne and South Africa’s Thomas Aiken were the first to make it through with par threes at the second tie hole.
That left four players battling for the last two spots which went to Matt Wallace of England and Australian Wade Ormsby, leaving Grégory Bourdy and Callum Shinkwin as first and second alternates.
As for Harrington, the 45-year-old only returned to action at Wentworth last week after a 12-week layoff following neck surgery.
But the US Open, which he hasn’t played since 2013, proved to be a bridge too far for the Dubliner as he went bogey-bogey-double at the first three holes, then bogeyed the fifth to slip to five-over-par after five holes en route to an opening 77 on the Old Course.
Unlike many others, he battled on, carding a four-under-par 68 on the New Course in the afternoon to end up ten shots outside the playoff on one-over par.
Englishman Rai carried his magnificent European Challenge Tour form to Walton Heath to win the US Open Championship International Sectional Qualifier and secure a Major Championship debut at Erin Hills.
The Wolverhampton player, who has won two of the five Challenge Tour tournaments thus far this season, made an incredible late dash with five birdies and an eagle in his final nine holes of the 36-hole one-day event to card a second round 64 and win by one shot with a 14-under total.
Li Haotong of China, meanwhile, will also play in a Major for the first time after he matched Rai’s eight under second round to sign for a 13-under total, in outright second place.
Frenchman Alexander Levy will return to the year’s second Major after he finished in a share of third place on 12-under par alongside Richie Ramsay, who will play the US Open for the first time in ten years and the first time as a professional.
Andrew "Beef" Johnston (68-66) delighted the crowds as he eagled the par five 16th at the end of the second round to jump into the qualification spots and earn his place at the US Open through this qualifier for a second successive time having had a hole-in-one on the second on the New Course in the morning.
The others to qualify in regulation play were South Africans Bekker, Coetzee and Stone, Frenchman Joёl Stalter, Englishman Eddie Pepperell and Welshman Bradley Dredge.
A play-off was required to determine the final four spots, with seven battling it out as darkness fell. Paul Dunne of Ireland and South Africa’s Thomas Aiken were the first to make it through before Matt Wallace of England and Australian Wade Ormsby joined them.
“It’s a dream come true to play in any Major, and with it being the US Open it makes it extra special. It’s hard to put it into words at the moment because it hasn’t really sunk in but when it does and I get to reflect on it, it will be a dream come true.
“It was two very good rounds of golf today and to win on the Challenge Tour you have to play very well also, so I wouldn’t say this is above those or that those are above this – they are all very good achievements.
“I didn’t have too many expectations coming into the round really. I didn’t’ want to get too far ahead of myself. It’s 36 holes and there is a lot of golf to be played in that period so I tried not to have too many expectations, I just tried to do my best.
“It was nice on the 18th green and to have my mum and dad here this week was incredible, to be able to share that with them. These are moments you don’t get many times in your life so to have them for a moment like this is very special.”
“It was an incredible day for me, I never thought I would be able to get into the US Open so it’s amazing to do that. I played really well in the first six holes of my first round, but I was struggling a little bit with the pace of the greens.
“In the afternoon I played really well. I didn’t waste any shots, and that’s why I’ve qualified. It was quite tiring because this has come after playing three weeks in a row. It’s a lot of golf.
“It’s going to be the first Major in my life so it’s going to be just so exciting. Hopefully I can do well at the event. It’s pretty much a dream come true.”
“It was a good day. I played nine under this morning which was really good and this afternoon was a little bit tougher. I managed to play under par this afternoon and I’m really pleased with what I did to today and also to be able to play in the US Open.
“It’s tough to play two rounds in the one day. We’ve been very lucky with the weather, it’s not easy because you can see the leaderboards at every hole and you know you need to play a low score. It’s not easy to manage but when you’re playing well you’re only thinking about making birdies and sinking putts.
“It’s really nice playing the US Open, but really tough. I’ve heard this one is really difficult but it’s nice to play a difficult golf course and I’m looking forward to playing Erin Hills.”
“I played well today, really solid. I was a bit disappointed to be four under in the morning section – I had a couple of chances, a couple of three-putts and I should have been six or seven under. That made it difficult in the afternoon but I played really well in the afternoon, less mistakes.
“The hole in one was funny, you can drive the first hole with a three-wood and then I three-putted it for par. Then I had a good number at the second and hit a nice eight iron and I think it bumped past the hole and spun back in.
“Playing this is like being a junior again, where you play 18, then come back in, have a quick bite to eat and head back out. It doesn’t really bother me, it’s not long enough to be hanging around waiting and then go out and warm up again. I just went straight back out and it was fine.
“I enjoy the US Open, you know it’s going to be difficult. You’ve just got to prepare for that and go and dig in from the first hole onwards. I think if you play well there you can end up in a good position because if people aren’t quite on their game, they really struggle.”
“My first major, I’m so happy. I just can’t believe it. Six months ago I was on the Alps Tour which is crazy. I’ve just had the best six or seven months of my life. I played really nicely today, I just missed so many putts.
“That’s why I was so emotional at the end, I thought I’d let it slip. I’m so relieved. I was up at four o’clock this morning so it’s been a really long day but it’s just the best day of my life.”
U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying, Waton Heath
New Course (NC, Par 72) | Old Course (OC, Par 72)
130 A Rai (Eng) 66 64;
131 H Li (Chn) 67 64;
132 R Ramsay (Sco) 66 66; A Levy (Fra) 63 69;
133 J Stalter (Fra) 68 65; E Pepperell (Eng) 67 66; O Bekker (RSA) 67 66; B Dredge (Wal) 62 71;
134 B Stone (RSA) 68 66; A Johnston (Eng) 68 66; G Coetzee (RSA) 64 70;
After a playoff
135 G Bourdy (Fra) 71 64; T Aiken (RSA) 68 67; Paul Dunne (Irl) 67 68; M Wallace (Eng) 67 68;
135 W Ormsby (Aus) 66 69 (1st alt) C Shinkwin (Eng) 65 70
135 D Boote (am) (Wal) 62 73;
136 M Ilonen (Fin) 71 65; R Paratore (Ita) 70 66; R Karlberg (Swe) 70 66; M Foster (Eng) 69 67; N Colsaerts (Bel) 69 67; R Green (Aus) 67 69; H Endycott (am) (Aus) 67 69; A Cañizares (Esp) 66 70; M Orrin (Eng) 65 71;
137 R Jacquelin (Fra) 71 66; S Brazel (Aus) 71 66; D Lipsky (USA) 69 68; D Im (USA) 69 68; C Paisley (Eng) 69 68; D Brooks (Eng) 69 68; J Dantorp (Swe) 68 69; F Zanotti (Par) 68 69;
138 R Wattel (Fra) 72 66; R Finch (Eng) 72 66; D Horsey (Eng) 71 67; C Hanson (Eng) 70 68; S Khan (Eng) 70 68; M Southgate (Eng) 70 68; Z Lombard (RSA) 69 69; S Forsström (Swe) 69 69; L Bjerregaard (Den) 69 69; J Campillo (Esp) 69 69; G Havret (Fra) 69 69; D Stewart (Sco) 67 71;
139 R Fox (Nzl) 70 69; N Cullen (Aus) 70 69; J Felton (Aus) 69 70; G Storm (Eng) 69 70; S Henry (Sco) 69 70; T Detry (Bel) 69 70; R Langasque (Fra) 68 71; P Larrazábal (Esp) 67 72;
140 D Frittelli (RSA) 71 69; M Siem (Ger) 71 69; J Winther (Den) 70 70; J Walters (RSA) 69 71; P Angles (Esp) 69 71; D Papadatos (Aus) 69 71; S Hend (Aus) 68 72; C Blomstrand (Swe) 67 73; R McEvoy (Eng) 66 74; B Paolini (USA) 66 74;
141 J Edfors (Swe) 73 68; M Pavon (Fra) 71 70; R Evans (Eng) 68 73; T Smyth (Aus) 68 73;
142 M Lee (am) (Aus) 74 68; R Rock (Eng) 73 69; S Soderberg (Swe) 70 72; B Hebert (Fra) 69 73;
143 M Lundberg (Swe) 71 72; G King (Eng) 67 76;
144 D Howell (Eng) 73 71; R Gouveia (Por) 73 71; J McLeary (Sco) 72 72;
145 Pádraig Harrington (Irl) 77 68; R Dinwiddie (Eng) 74 71; N Elvira (Esp) 73 72; C Syme (am) (Sco) 73 72; S Chawrasia (Ind) 73 72; K Reitan (am) (Nor) 72 73; D Perrier (Fra) 72 73;
146 O Zetterwall (Swe) 72 74;
147 T Petersson (Swe) 72 75;
150 A Blyth (Aus) 72 78;
RETIRED: A Dodt (Aus) 69 RT; G Stal (Fra) 69 RT; J Smith (Eng) 70 RT; S Kapur (Ind) 70 RT; A Björk (Swe) 71 RT; R Karlsson (Swe) 71 RT; J Heath (Eng) 71 RT; N Bertasio (Ita) 71 RT; M Manassero (Ita) 71 RT; S Jamieson (Sco) 72 RT; A Saddier (Fra) 72 RT; D Burmester (RSA) 73 RT; S Walker (Eng) 73 RT; O Stark (Swe) 73 RT; S Lee (Kor) 74 RT; H Porteous (RSA) 75 RT; Y Yang (Kor) 73 WD; A Otaegui (Esp) 73 WD; J Morrison (Eng) 74 WD; C Pigem (Esp) 74 WD; J Carlsson (Swe) 74 WD; J Singh (Ind) 75 WD; A Pavan (Ita) 79 WD; S Gallacher (Sco) WD 0;