TROON, Scotland -- Alan Dunbar became the latest golfer from Northern Ireland to light up the golf world on Saturday after winning the British Amateur Championship at Royal Troon. 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.
The Portrush amateur takes the trophy back to Northern Ireland hard on the heels of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy winning the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Opens, and Darren Clarke’s victory in last year’s British Open at Royal St. George’s.
Dunbar’s experience, and his putting stroke, paid off against the 17-year-old Austrian in the first final to go all 36 holes since Spain’s Alejandro Larrazabal defeated Martin Sell at Royal Porthcawl in 2002.
Dunbar and Schwab exchanged the lead five times in the 36-hole final, in one of the event’s most closely fought matches. Dunbar’s experience paid off in the end. The Rathmore amateur holed key putts at crucial times.
“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.”
A large gallery braved wind and rain to watch the final, with about 40 members of Rathmore Golf Club who had made the ferry ride from Larne to Troon to cheer their man on. They were treated to great golf in trying conditions from the two finalists.
Schwab entered the afternoon round with a one-hole advantage after just edging the first 18 holes. However, Dunbar went two up after five holes of the afternoon session when he played the first four holes in 1 under par and Schwab in 2 over.
“I thought I had it, but then I struggled,” he said.
The match went back to all square after eight holes when Schwab birdied the par-4 seventh hole and Dunbar missed the green on the famous par-3 “Postage Stamp” eighth hole. Dunbar hooked his ball into long rough left of the green and could only hack his ball out. He conceded the hole to go back to all square.
Schwab went one up at 12 when Dunbar hit another hook, this time off the tee. He found a bush left of the fairway, declared his ball unplayable and subsequently conceded the hole.
The match went all square at 15 when Schwab failed to get up and down from left of the green. However, the contest’s seesaw nature returned at the par-5 16th when Dunbar found two fairway bunkers en route to a bogey 6.
Dunbar’s experience of winning the 2009 St. Andrews Links Trophy and winning two points out of three in last year’s victorious Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team paid off over the last two holes.
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 four-foot par putt on the final green.
A meeting from his coach shortly before travelling to Troon might have made the difference for Dunbar.
“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,” he said. “So I suppose that was a bit of motivation.”
Schwab leaves Royal Troon as one 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 in the United States at Vanderbilt next September.
“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 British Amateur 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 has benefitted from coaching through The R&A supported Darren Clarke Foundation. He gains a place in next month’s British Open, a place in next year's U.S. Open and, traditionally, an invitation to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. His next appointment is an invitation to next week’s Irish Open at Royal Portrush.
Next year’s British Amateur will take place June 17-22 at Royal Cinque Ports and Princes in Kent, England.