TROON, Scotland — If patience wins British Amateur Championships, then engrave Alan Dunbar’s name on the trophy right now.
The Northern Irish player faces Austria’s Matthias Schwab in Saturday’s 36-hole final after defeating Scotland’s Paul Ferrier 3 and 2 in the semifinals. Schwab took down local favorite Jack McDonald by two holes.
Dunbar oozes patience. Phlegmatic might have been coined with him in mind.
“I’m quite a calm guy. I’ve got a lot of patience,” said Dunbar.
That might be the understatement of the week.
It probably won’t surprise anyone that Dunbar hails from Portrush, Northern Ireland. Given the success of golfers from this tiny province of 1.5 million people, it’s a wonder #northernirelandgolf isn’t permanently trending on twitter.
Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke have all etched their names into the record books with major wins recently. Two weeks ago Stephanie Meadow got the winning point for Great Britain & Ireland in the Curtis Cup.
Now Dunbar stands to be the first from Northern Ireland to win the British Amateur since Michael Hoey in 2001 at nearby Prestwick.
The 23-year-old raced to a 2-up lead over Ferrier after nine holes with three birdies on the front nine. However, Ferrier fought back.
Dunbar made back-to-back double-bogey 6s at 10 and 11 to go back to all square, but won the 12th with a birdie and the 13th with a par to go 2 up.
“I played well on the front nine and holed a few putts, but 10 and 11 were shockers,” Dunbar said. “The momentum was with him after those two holes so to win 12 and 13 was important.”
Dunbar has a connection with Clarke. He spent a year on the Darren Clarke Foundation and has also played with the reigning Open Champion. “We played at Royal Portrush in a skins game in January and I won the money. I can’t remember how much we played for, but he paid up.”
It perhaps isn’t surprising Dunbar is in the final. He was a controversial pick for last year’s Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, but excelled at Royal Aberdeen to win two of three matches to help defeat the United States, 14-12.
Now Dunbar stands on the threshold of a trip to the Open Championship at Royal Lytham next month, and an invitation to next year’s Masters. Those are the prizes that go with winning the game’s oldest national amateur championship.
Schwab has two chances to etch his name in the history of Austrian golf. No Austrian has ever won the British Amateur or played in the Masters.
The 17-year-old from Salzburg came into the championship as something of an unknown. He is currently ranked 462nd on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. However, he won the Austrian Amateur Championship in 2010, made the cut in the last two Austrian Opens on the European Tour. He is also good enough to be heading to the United States to play college golf.
Schwab starts his college career at Vanderbilt next September. Commodores head coach Scott Limbaugh looks like he’s getting a good player into his system.
Vanderbilt can thank legendary German coach Willie Hoffman for grooming Schwab’s swing. Hoffman coached Bernhard Langer to two Masters’ titles, and made him one of world’s the best players.
“I drive to Munich once every two months to see him, and the rest of the time I send him videos,” Schwab said.
The teenager started skiing when he was three, but soon turned to golf when he was 11. “I decided on golf because I was better at golf, and skiing was more dangerous. I had picked up few injuries skiing.”
Schwab comes from a sporting family. Father Andreas participated in the 1976 Winter Olympics and came fourth in the two-man Austrian Bobsleigh team. Schwab Junior has a chance to get one over on Dad here at Royal Troon. Besides the huge trophy, the winner gets a gold medal.
Dad caddied for Matthias in the 36-hole qualifying, but got fired when the match play rounds started. Local caddie Daniel Mulvey is now caddying for Schwab.
“I needed a caddie that was less nervous,” Matthias said.
Dad endorsed his son’s decision. “I am more nervous watching Matthias play than I was when I was in the Olympics,” Andreas said.
Hopefully that nervousness won’t show against Dunbar in the final, because the Northern Irishman won’t show many signs of the jitters.
He’s far too phlegmatic.