Paul Dunne aims to emulate Rory McIlroy in Dunhill Links

Paul Dunne speaks to the media ahead of his pro debut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship Picture: Kenny Smith/SNS
Paul Dunne speaks to the media ahead of his pro debut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship Picture: Kenny Smith/SNS
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EIGHT years after Rory McIlroy used the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship as a springboard for his trophy-laden career, another Irishman is aiming to do likewise.

Paul Dunne, of course, is no stranger to St Andrews, having shared the lead there heading into the final round of the Open Championship back in July before finishing joint-30th behind Zach Johnson.

The 22-year-old Dubliner has since helped Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup by a record margin at Royal Lytham as well as passing his first-stage test in the European Tour Qualifying School after turning professional.

Now Dunne is chasing his first cheque in the paid ranks, having earned an invitation into this week’s £3.3 million pro-am along with Walker Cup team-mates Ashley Chesters, Gary Hurley and Jimmy Mullen.

In 2007, not long after he’d ended up on a losing GB&I side in the Walker Cup at Royal County Down, McIlroy tied for third in the same event as he made only his second start as a professional, securing his European Tour card in one fell swoop.

“You can offer me anything that Rory’s done and I’ll take it,” said Dunne, smiling, in reply to being asked if he could match McIlroy’s feat this weekend. “I can play well enough to contend this week so it’s obviously achievable.

“I can’t say I will or I won’t, but obviously what Rory has done has been quite inspiring. He’s definitely a role model for everyone in Irish golf. I’m sure many people have aspirations to do what he did.”

Dunne became the first amateur to lead the Open Championship with a round to go since Bobby Jones in 1927 before quickly falling out of contention after a shaky start on the last day.

“Yeah, a lot more than you imagine,” he replied to being asked if he often reflected on how things had panned out for him then. “I look back in a lot of different ways.

“There’s obviously some things I could improve going forward - how I handled myself in the last round and the shots I hit.

“But it’s important not just to look back on the negative things as there were also things I can be proud of. I played a lot of great golf that week and also prepared really well for the tournament.”

Dunne, who secured the Walker Cup win with a halved match in the second-day singles, has also been handed invitations to next week’s British Masters at Woburn then the Portugal Masters after that.

“I’m grateful to the European Tour because they have been really generous,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me and hopefully I can make the most of it over the next three weeks.”