WHEN PAUL DUNNE arrived at Alabama-Birmingham from Greystones, Ireland, he had two attributes that stood out right away.
First, the higher the stakes, the better Dunne performed. Second, he boasted a short game that took UAB coach Alan Murray's breath away. "I've never seen a better chipper and pitcher of the ball," says Murray, a fellow Irishman who played at the same club, Greystones, as Dunne before recruiting the 2010 Irish boys' champion. "And I played against Graeme McDowell in junior golf and a little bit in college." (McDowell also attended UAB; Murray played for Toledo.)
"A lot of players can get it to three or four feet," Murray adds, "but I've never seen anyone consistently leave it stone dead to within inches. And like most great putters, he doesn't think he's as great as he is."
There are a lot of very good players the same age as Dunne, 23, who with world No. 2 Jordan Spieth is part of the vaunted high school class of 2011 (Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Emiliano Grillo, et al.). The crowded field explains how Dunne remains under the radar, even though he co-led the British Open through 54 holes last summer—the first amateur to do so in 88 years. Then he shot a final-round 78 to finish 30th.
"Overall," he says now, "it was a good experience."
Since turning pro, the 5'8" Dunne has been largely out of sight to American fans. He finished 13th at the PGA Tour's Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in February but has focused mostly on the European tour, where he has two top 20 finishes (16th at both the Trophee Hassan II and the Spanish Open).
Murray and Eric Eshleman, Dunne's swing coach, say it's only a matter of time before Dunne's moment arises. "I worked with Graeme during his years at UAB, and there are so many similarities," Eshleman says. "Both are very, very smart and would be successful in any profession." (McDowell is opening a second Nona Blue restaurant in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; countryman Dunne, having earned a finance degree at UAB, might not be a bad hire.)
If Dunne has a weakness, other than inexperience, it's the driver, which can get stuck behind him on the downswing, producing a right miss. "I really struggled off the tee," he says, "but I made changes with my coach and picked up 15 to 20 yards and a lot more consistency."
Eshleman foresees Dunne as a top 50 player in the world, and Murray doesn't disagree. "With that short game," he says, "if he drives the ball well, Paul is going to be really difficult to beat."
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