Before his debut in this week’s EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM, Paul Dunne sat down to write about his longstanding love affair with match play and the world of team golf.
I love match play golf. Love it. You’re right in the thick of it from the off. Try bottling the buzz of being in contention for an event on back nine Sunday, but getting that feeling every day, every round, every shot. From the very first tee shot. In normal golf, week-to-week out on Tour, you might sometimes get a thrill out of grinding to make the cut, trying to shoot a number on Friday, but the first three days of a stroke play event are usually trying to put yourself in position for the final round and the adrenaline rush you’ll get then. Some days in stroke play, it can obviously be a little bit mundane but match play is a completely different beast.
I played the format loads growing up in Ireland. A lot of the tournaments we would play stroke play qualifying and match play after that, while we also had at least four or five team team matches a year, too, whether for Ireland, or your province. Coming from a pretty long amateur golf background, and having only been pro for two and a half years, I've gotten very used to it. As amateurs, we didn’t play any fourball, so every match play we played would have been singles or foursomes so I feel especially experienced in those formats. I was fortunate to be involved in a lot of winning teams over the years, whether Boys’ Internationals, home internationals, the European Championships, the Jacques Léglise, the Palmer Cup, the St Andrews Trophy and, of course, the Walker Cup.
You make friends for life in team golf. In all the above events, I played with those same guys every year, so you became really close friends with the people on your team. It’s nice to play for, and with, other people. It’s nice to know that the people you’re having dinner with really want you to play well because it means they benefit, too. Everyone is in it for the team. In a normal week, while you’re obviously friendly with people, you want to beat them. These are the only weeks when we’re not trying to beat each other. For me, I’m not perhaps as close friends as I was with those guys at home. Yet. Hopefully we can be by the end of the week.
The key to team match play is never putting too much pressure on your partner. In four ball, you want to keep your ball in play. You never want to feel like you’re on the back foot in the match. If you’re struggling along, and even saving halves, you can quickly start to feel like you are chasing the match the whole way through. You need to get aggressive, too. With only one hole up for grabs at at a time, rather than counting strokes at other events, you tend to go for things more than not. Putting well is also key. Obviously. You have to take advantage of the chances when they come around. At the end of the day it comes down to who makes the right shots at the right time. We’ll be gunning for it this week, and trying with all we have to get it done under pressure.
The first memory I have of watching a European side play was the 2004 Ryder Cup. I know Paul McGinley holed the putt to win it at the Belfry two years earlier, but I was only nine or ten at that point. I started playing golf at ten so I just missed that one. But when I was 12, I was mad into it. I pretty much watched every shot at Oakland Hills, where Europe won easily enough. That was an impressive performance. And, of course, I went in 2006 when it was in Ireland. I went on one of the practice days with my dad and we met people who had tickets for Sunday and couldn’t go so they gave them to us. So we came back for the final day and I really remember Henrik Stenson holding the putt to win it there. You feel the buzz of that event, of that format, of Team Europe at that point. You were watching the best players in the world playing against each other, country versus continent, in a team atmosphere. That is just so unique for golf. There was an electric atmosphere around it. Everyone was pulling for the team: fans, players, caddies, everyone. It felt more like a football match, with everyone footing for their home team. You could sense the crowd willing people to do well. It has become one of the best spectacles in sport.
One of my great match play and European heroes is Graeme McDowell. There have been so many great performers for us over the years. Obviously Seve was a legend and Ian Poulter has been a man Europe has relied on a lot over the last decade or so. But watching Graeme play, he’s been great for Europe over the last ten years. That putt on 16 at Celtic Manor was a golden moment. In Ireland we have a great sense of pride that he is one of ours and the way he performed so well under pressure in those environments.
Anytime you can represent your country, or continent in this case, there is a huge sense of pride. It’s great to be involved here and I think if anyone said they weren’t thinking about the Ryder Cup, even a little bit, then they would be lying. It would be amazing to be in the team for Paris in the autumn but to do that I’m going to have to qualify by having a great year. There is a long way to go. I am very proud of my season last year to get in the team this week, it was a big goal of mine to try to make it. I’ll enjoy wearing the flag this week and hopefully it might end up being the first of many appearances for Europe over the coming years.
I want to contribute to the team and I want to win. I would like to finish the week knowing my team was happy for me to be a part of it, having put some points on the board. I want to win all of my matches, but if I can win some of them and contribute to a winning team, feel I was of some benefit to the cause, then I would have achieved my goal for the week.