Northern Ireland's Dunbar wins British Am
TROON, Scotland – What on earth are they putting in the water in Northern Ireland?
Whatever it is, Alan Dunbar is drinking it.
The Portrush Amateur joined Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Stephanie Meadow in the growing list of golfers from the tiny province recently to light up the golf world. McDowell, McIlroy and Clarke have their names on major trophies, while Meadow holed the winning putt in the Curtis Cup two weeks ago.
Now Dunbar will play with McDowell, McIlroy and Clarke next month in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham. He’ll also have a spot in the 2013 Masters and U.S. Open after winning the Amateur Championship at Royal Troon.
“It would be some experience to play with those three,” he said.
Of the above, only McIlroy is not from Portrush. Indeed, McDowell grew up as a member of the same club as Dunbar, Strathmore in Portrush.
“Portrush is flying,” Dunbar said.
The 23-year-old defeated Austrian teenager Matthias Schwab by one hole to become the third Northern Irish winner, after Michael Hoey in 2001 and Garth McGimpsey in 1985. In fact, Dunbar is the first player from the Emerald Isle to win since Brian McElhinney accomplished the feat seven years ago.
In a closely fought match, Dunbar’s experience, and his putting stroke, paid off against the 17-year-old Austrian. The lead changed hands five times, and this final became the first to go all 36 holes since Spain’s Alejandro Larrazabal defeated Martin Sell at Royal Porthcawl in 2002.
However, Dunbar holed big putts at crucial stages to keep the match close.
“My putting was great all week,” Dunbar said. “I struggled with the long game as the week went on, and I had to rely on my putting.”
One down after the morning round, Dunbar went 2 up after five holes in the afternoon session when he played the first four holes in 1 under par.
“I thought I had it, but then I struggled,” Dunbar said.
However, Dunbar got a case of the hooks. He lost Nos. 8 and 10 with hooked iron shots. He drove into a gorse bush left of the 12th fairway and had to take a penalty drop. He lost the hole to go all square.
He looked like he might go 2 down at 13, but holed a 15-foot par putt from the back of the green to stay close.
“It was all or nothing there,” he said.
He won the par-4 15th when Schwab bogeyed, and the match was all square. He then looked to throw it away when he found two fairway bunkers on the par-5 16th hole. That’s when his experience paid off.
Dunbar made pars at 17 and 18 while Schwab failed to get up and down to save par on both holes. The match ended when the young Austrian missed his 4-foot par putt on the final green.
Dunbar is a worthy winner. He won the 2009 St. Andrews Links Trophy, and won two out of three points in last year’s Walker Cup to help Great Britain & Ireland defeat the United States. So he was one to watch coming in, but a meeting with his coach might have made the difference.
“I had a lesson with my coach Seamus Duffy last week at Castlerock, and he said if you win the Amateur, you’re taking me to the Masters. So I suppose that was a bit of motivation.”
Schwab leaves Royal Troon as one to watch for the future. He will look to make his third straight cut in the European Tour’s Austrian Open later this summer, and starts college golf at Vanderbilt next September. He might be six years younger than Dunbar, but his reaction to losing made him seem much older. He left Royal Troon with the proper sense of perspective.
“It’s all right for me,” Schwab said. “I’m happy to be second. I came here to make the cut and made the final, so there’s no need to be negative.”
Schwab was hoping to become the first Austrian to win the Amateur Championship, and the first to play in the Masters. He still might attain that goal, because he left here vowing to learn from his experience.
“It was good for me to see that I can compete with the best amateurs in the world,” Schwab said. “I drove the ball well and hit good iron shots, but there are lots of deficits in my short game, my chipping and putting, so I know what to work on.”
Dunbar, meanwhile, headed home on the short ferry ride between Troon and the port of Larne, Northern Ireland, with the huge silver Amateur Championship Trophy. It’s just the latest bit of silverware to head to Northern Ireland.