'Hopefully the best bits of my career are ahead of me, not behind me'

After a nine month absence from the game, Paul Dunne is back in competitive golf this week.

Paul Dunne will tee off at next week's British Masters, a tournament he won in 2017.
Paul Dunne will tee off at next week's British Masters, a tournament he won in 2017.
Image: PA

PAUL DUNNE IS aiming to reclaim the form that saw him win the British Masters in 2017, lead the Open going into the final round in 2015 and inherit the label of being the Next-Big-Thing in Irish golf.

Nine months out – six of those with injury, three because of the global shutdown – are about to end.

His comeback, fittingly, will be at Close House this coming week, the venue of his greatest success to date, when he saw off Rory McIlroy to win the British Masters three years ago.

After that, who knows? Having lost his tour card at the end of last year, he is unsure if he will be invited to events over the following six weeks.

One way to change that, of course, is by winning again at the Masters. Do that and he can pick and choose his events. So he’s thinking big.

“There are still ten spots available for this year’s US Open,” he said in an interview with RTE radio this afternoon. “So that is on the priority list.

“The big thing for me is that rather than stressing about winning tournaments, I’ve gained more of an appreciation for enjoying this game during my time off. I’ve missed hitting the ball well.”

His wrist injury hardly helped. Arriving right at the end of 2019, he required surgery to correct that. “It was a straightforward operation,” Dunne said, “and lets’ face it, it wasn’t the worst time to get injured as everyone else was missing tournaments (because of the pandemic). I was absent because of injury.”

At least that was straightforward because so much of 2019 was complicated.

“I didn’t play well all year (in 2019), I had some reasonable weeks, had a third and fourth place in the first half of the year but I was kind of fighting my golf swing most of the year,” he said.

british-masters-2018-day-two-walton-heath-golf-club Dunne won the British Masters in 2017. Source: Steven Paston

“And in the last stretch of the year, I couldn’t find anything (in terms of form). I was probably practicing too much. I was trying to find something – but it was one of those stretches of time where things didn’t go for me, I was missing cuts by one or two shots. All the breaks were going against me.

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“I’m hoping to get back to the vein of form I was in a few years ago.”

Technically, his iron play was uncharacteristically poor. “I had lost a pure strike and if you lose your strike, distance control becomes an issue. I was probably over analysing things as well.”

Now the only thing he is analysing is his schedule.

“We know there are a run of eight or ten events when we start back. They haven’t pieced together a full schedule.

“It is hard to anticipate when and where everyone will want to play. Some will want to play all the time after the break. So it is hard to plan it out.

But I feel better. My ball striking feels so much better than last year. I’m confident I’ll get my (European tour) status back. The idea is to try and win and get status for the next couple of years.

“Hopefully the best of my career is ahead, not behind me. I feel confident about my career. I would like clarity around the schedule – although everyone would.”

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Garry Doyle

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