Dunne growing in confidence: "I am obviously going to the US Open to compete"

Dunne growing in confidence: "I am obviously going to the US Open to compete"
Paul Dunne

Paul Dunne

Greystones' Paul Dunne insists he won't be going to the US Open to make up the numbers after getting through Monday's 36-hole Sectional Qualifier at Walton Heath with his B game

The 24-year old is gaining experience in leaps and bounds as he showed when coming through a seven-man playoff for five spots at Erin Hills next month despite struggling to rediscover the kind of form that saw him finish runner-up to Edoardo Molinari after a playoff for the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco six weeks ago.

Confident he needs to make only a few minor adjustments to be 100 percent ready to challenge for this week's Nordea Masters before heading to Wisconsin for his US Open debut, Dunne said: "I am looking forward to it, but I want to concentrate on Sweden this week. 

"My goal from the start of the season was to win a tournament, and I haven't achieved that yet. I am pretty confident I will give myself a few more chances before the end of the year.

"I think I am in a good place, so when I do get a chance, I think I will be able to take it."

Fellow UAB graduate Graeme McDowell won his maiden European Tour title in Sweden but Dunne's ultimate goal is to follow in the Portrush man's footsteps and compete for majors.

A tournament win would put him comfortably into the world's Top 100 and ease his path to more majors and that's why he's concentrating on this week's European Tour stop before turning his attention to the US Open.

"A win, that's obviously the No 1 goal, but it's also to get into the Top 20 in the Race to Dubai after the US Open and see if I can get a spot in the Open that way," Dunne said. 

"My short game is sharp and things are coming around, so hopefully, I can give myself a chance this week."

Now in his second full season on Tour, Dunne is one of the more powerful hitters in the game as well as a short game wizard.

And as a graduate of the University of Alabama, Birmingham he's also looking forward to returning to the US to compete on slick, undulating American greens.

"I'm really looking forward to the US Open," he said from the UK last night having missed his flight to Sweden. "And I am definitely not treating it as a bonus week. 

"I am trying to make the top 20 in the Race to Dubai and there's a $12m purse, so it's a big week for me to do well and make a big dent in that goal.

"I am obviously going to the US Open to compete. Nobody arrives just to make up the numbers. 

"I am not saying I am going to go to the US Open and win or anything like that. But who knows how I might do. I will just try to get my game in the right shape first and play as well as I can."

The 24-year old from Greystones struggled with his ball-striking in the BMW PGA at Wentworth (T30) and again Monday's Sectional Qualifier at Walton Heath.

He still shot rounds of 67 and 68 to make a seven-man playoff on nine-under-par then went birdie-par to get one of five places in the season's second major.

He's quickly becoming a more experienced and confident and coupled with his stellar short game, that extra confidence he has gained with the driver—once his Achilles' heel—has made him a formidable competitor.

"It will be a different test compared to The Open," he said of what will be his fourth major championship appearance from June 15-18. 

"There is always a premium on driving at a US Open course but I feel like my touch around the greens is one of my strengths so quick, slopey greens will be something that I look forward to.  

"It's just a matter of getting the work done with the driver and getting more comfortable again, as I was a couple of weeks ago. It is not far away. Just a couple of minor tweaks here and there and it should be there. 

I am not saying I am going to go to the US Open and win or anything like that. But who knows how I might do.
— Paul Dunne

"I have never played a US Open, but I want to play in all the majors so it will be a  good first experience and hopefully I can do better in my first US Open than I did in my first Open [missed cut]."

Ranked fifth for driving distance at Wentworth, where he averaged 306.5 yards, Dunne admits that he's now far more consistent from the tee.

"I am driving it straighter, and my misses are less destructive," he said. "I am not sure I am hitting tonnes more fairways than I was but I am hitting the ball in play a lot more. 

"I used to have one or two shots a round that were completely out of play, and I don't think I have that any more.  So, that's a big strength. 

"And I have put on a lot of distance though I don't know what I'd put it down to exactly.

It's a little of everything – fitness, technique, diet and maybe having a little more confidence and going after it a little harder. That's why we work on those things I suppose. It's good to see it's working." 

As for Walton Heath, he was thrilled to make it through having failed at the same venue last year.

"It was mad," he said. "I'd requested an early tee time, so I could make my flight to Sweden because my flight was at half eight and the way it turned out,  I had to wait around four hours for a playoff, and I missed the flight anyway. 

"When I finished, I thought there be a playoff anyway with a lot of spots open and maybe only a couple of guys missing out. And that's how it worked out — seven for four. It was grand. 

"My girlfriend was there and my brother and my mum and dad. So I had plenty of company. The first extra hole was really easy par four - three wood into the middle of the green. Not much trouble on it so five of us made birdie on it and the other two made pars. So two were out. 

"Then we went to the 17th, the par-three which was playing just over 200 yards. You couldn't miss it left and I missed it left in the proper round and made bogey. 

"You have no chance from left of the green and I had a pretty easy two-putt from around 40 feet."

The goal now is to build on early season form that has seen him rise to 27th in the Order of Merit with €471,561

"I feel good," he said of the season so far. "I really didn't feel like I played well at all today. I struggled with by ball-striking big time, just as I had done at Wentworth. 

"But I managed to scrap it around, putted well, took the chances I got and scrambled well when I was out of position. It was nice to get through because it was a grind of a day. Last week was a grind all week as well.

"I feel like everything has been going in the right direction, and I have been getting better as time has gone on. It shows in weeks when my game is quite far from being where I want it to be that I can still do okay."

He's never been to Erin Hills but his focus is on the Nordea Masters, where he missed the cut last year but left with fond memories of the course.

"As I missed my flight and all the other flights are booked up, I can't get out until tomorrow evening," he said. "So I will be practice round-less this week because of the pro-am on Wednesday. 

"But I played Barseback last year, and I like it too. My short game is sharp and things are coming around, so hopefully, I can give myself a chance this week."