Watch out, Rory McIlroy! Alan Dunbar's got his eye on the prize
Published 11/04/2013 | 00:00
Northern Ireland's golfing royalty has another pretender to the throne.
Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell had better look over their shoulders the next time they take to the tee as a rising star from the north coast has his eyes on golfing glory.
Alan Dunbar, 22, from Portrush will be rubbing shoulders with golf's greatest names at the US Masters after sealing his place in the competition courtesy of victory in the Amateur Championships last year.
The opportunity to ply his trade against the likes of McIlroy and Tiger Woods should be his last as an amateur player, with Alan expected to turn professional after Augusta.
He has set his sights on then following in the footsteps of fellow Portrush aces McDowell and Clarke.
Having played a practice round on the famous course yesterday, Alan admitted to being almost overwhelmed by the venue.
"You see it on TV but it doesn't do it justice, it's unbelievable," he said.
"I'm a bit speechless, it's some place."
He revealed the prized entry into the Masters weighed heavy on his mind as he completed his Amateur Championship victory in 2012. "It was part of the feeling of happiness after winning the Amateur that I would be in the Masters, and it even went through my head the night before that final," Alan said.
"It popped into my head again on the final green at Troon, as I was standing over a putt. Thankfully it didn't distract me too much."
He said the attention he received while playing in last year's Irish Open felt "a bit weird" but said he was confident he could come to terms with being in the spotlight. Alan flew to America with a group of friends to help keep him relaxed, with his mum and dad cheering him on from their home in the Co Antrim seaside town.
If he needs a bit of advice he won't have to look far for a familiar face with McIlroy and McDowell among the high-profile stars taking to the course.
Dunbar said the trio of major winners from Northern Ireland – including Clarke who has been ruled out of the tournament by injury – have inspired him to go all the way in the sport he loves.
"I can't explain why Northern Ireland keeps producing golfers, I'm not sure anybody can," he said.
"What I have come to realise is how good these guys are, how much talent they have.
"They have definitely shown what is possible. Coming from a small place doesn't make any difference to that."
Stan Short, the administrator at Rathmore, said unassuming Alan likes to let his golf do the talking.
"When a lot of the lads get fitted out with their jackets and kit for Irish teams, they can't wait to wear it around the place," he said.
"Not Alan, he is quite the opposite.
"If there is a big event on here and he needs to practise, he will go off somewhere else for some peace and quiet.
"He is just such a quiet, down-to-earth lad."
Alan Dunbar is tipped as the rising star of golf in Northern Ireland. He won the 2012 Amateur Championship at Royal Troon. The win gave the 22-year-old automatic qualification to the 2013 Masters and 2013 US Open provided he remains an amateur. His home club is Rathmore Golf Club near Portrush, Co Antrim, the same club where Graeme McDowell honed his talents.
He plans to turn professional after the Masters.