Mullen leads Dunhill after Round 2 in first professional event

Phil Casey 3/10/2015
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Jimmy Mullen admitted he was beginning to consider the possibility of winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on his professional debut after maintaining a share of the lead.

– Different Strokes: Intrigue of Solheim Cup, bald Spieth
– EurAsia Cup: Clarke and Singh named captains
– Spieth: Plotting two decades of domination

Mullen added a 69 at St Andrews to his opening 64 at Kingsbarns to finish 11 under par alongside fellow Englishman Anthony Wall, with Walker Cup team-mate Paul Dunne, Ryder Cup star Jamie Donaldson, Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and American Chris Stroud a shot behind.

The 21-year-old from Devon joined the paid ranks after contributing four points to September’s record victory over the United States at Royal Lytham, becoming the first Great Britain and Ireland player to compile a perfect 4-0 record since Paul Casey and Luke Donald in 1999.

“I don’t really know what my expectations were to be honest,” said Mullen, who carded five birdies and two bogeys on the Old Course, one of three venues used for the pro-am event.

“I’m just out there trying to enjoy it and learn really, and to be top of the leaderboard I can’t really explain it. It’s a different experience but I guess I’ll just have to learn as I go along.

“The hardest bit for me is you watch the players growing up, from when I was a junior, and just realising that you’re playing against them now and seeing them on the range. I’m still a bit like, ‘There’s (Martin) Kaymer and other people like that.’”

Asked if he had thought about lifting the trophy – and winning the first prize of £525,000 on Sunday – Mullen added: “Yeah, it’s impossible not to. Every time there’s a scoreboard, I’m looking to see if my name is up there.

“It’s impossible not to think about it, but I’ve got to just try and take care of tomorrow (at Carnoustie) and see what happens on Sunday.”

Dunne is also making his professional debut and carded a 70 at St Andrews, where he shared the lead in the Open Championship after 54 holes before finishing in a tie for 30th.

That proved an inspiration for Mullen, who added: “I played with him the week before in the European Championships and managed to beat him on the 20th hole and the next week he’s leading the Open after three rounds.

“Even though he was the one playing, it was a big confidence booster for myself.”

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Lowry targets Dunhill Links victory after a six-week break

Phil Casey 1/10/2015
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Back in the game: Lowry.

Ireland’s Shane Lowry has reset his goals and regained his hunger for the game as he looks to build on the biggest win of his career.

– Different Strokes: Intrigue of Solheim Cup, bald Spieth
– EurAsia Cup: Clarke and Singh named captains
– Spieth: Plotting two decades of domination

Lowry won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August but has played just once since his memorable victory at Firestone Country Club, missing the cut in the following week’s US PGA Championship.

The 28-year-old has enjoyed reflecting on his success in Akron and feels the six-week break will work in his favour in the closing stages of the season, starting with this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

“I’ve been able to take a few weeks off and I’ve enjoyed my win, and then the last few weeks I decided to reassess and try to set some goals going forward,” Lowry said ahead of the pro-am event staged on the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.

“When something like that happens, it’s tough to get my head around. It would be easy for me to sit back the rest of the year, say I’ve won a massive tournament and sit back at Christmas and be happy with that.

“I’m looking forward and looking to do a few more things in the next few weeks. I’m hoping to see another win, to contend in a few tournaments and finish at the top.

“I’m sure there probably will be a little bit of rust but I’ve played a lot of games the last few weeks with friends. I feel like I’m playing well. Feel like I’ve never had a break at all. But I do feel like my hunger is back and that’s kind of what I wanted to get after a few weeks off.

“Sometimes when you go through a long season and after a win like this, if you keep playing, golf can kind of catch up with you and you can get burned out. I’m hoping those weeks off will stand me in good stead, not only this week but when it comes to the end of the year and The Race to Dubai and things like that.”

Lowry has missed the first four events in Ryder Cup qualifying but feels he is now ready to challenge for a place in Darren Clarke’s European side, which will look to retain the trophy at Hazeltine next year.

And a first major title is also on the agenda after he went into the final round of the US Open in June just three shots off the lead before finishing in a tie for ninth.

He added: “I felt like the last Ryder Cup probably came a year too early for me. I feel like a year later I can make the next team and that’s probably my main goal for the next five months.”

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Different Strokes: Spieth tops $22m for the year, Warne's golf skills

Alex Dimond 30/09/2015
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Grabbing golf headlines this week: Shane Warne and Jordan Spieth.

The thing with great sporting achievements is that we seem to instinctively resort to previous, similar feats in order to try and make sense of it, to put it into some sort of context.

– Different Strokes: Intrigue of Solheim Cup, bald Spieth
– EurAsia Cup: Clarke and Singh named captains
– Spieth: Plotting two decades of domination

That makes a certain sense on paper – but realistically what value is added when you put Arsenal’s famous ‘Invincibles’ team of the 2003/04 Premier League season up against the only other time a side has gone unbeaten for campaign in English football: Preston North End’s famous 1888-89 effort?

The achievements happened in such different environments as to be essentially unrelated – the only common ground being the ‘0’ in the loss column itself. So when Jordan Spieth capped off his remarkable 2015 season with victory in the FedEx Cup playoffs, and everyone rushed to compare him to greats of the past (‘the most dominant year since Tiger in his prime!’ ‘He’s earned more in a year than Jack Nicklaus did in his career!’) perhaps the best way to contextualise the 22-year-old’s achievements was by looking not at the past, but at two other players right there with him in the field at East Lake.

Rory McIlroy won two majors in 2014, yet an effort previously considered superhuman by many has now been made to look pathetically mortal by Spite’s subsequent achievements (McIlroy has still never won the FedEx Cup). Then there is Jason Day, who has won five times in 2015 (including his first major) yet is now set to pick up no more than a handful of votes for player of the year.

Most years that sort of list of results would walk the end of season awards, so perhaps the fact Day will get little formal adulation for what he has done is the most fitting way to measure the scale of Spieth’s displays.

Five wins, including two majors, is a haul even Woods in his prime would have been proud of – and Woods never came up against players as similarly locked-in as Day and McIlroy (and Fowler, and Bubba Watson) have been at times over the year.

That Spieth responded to Day’s recent surge with a virtuoso performance with $11.4 million on the line last weekend only seemed to emphasise that this was his year, even when so many others had so much to be proud of.

Spieth has now earned more than $22m on the course in 2015 – a staggering effort for one individual, even if the man himself gives those around him (his caddie, his coach, his family) as much of the credit for his results.

“I have an opportunity now, with a year like this and a bonus like that, to celebrate and to share it with the people that have made it possible,” the 22-year-old said. “And that’s kind of the plan.

“Our team did an unbelievable job this year. Everything was exactly how we needed it to be to peak at the right times. If we can continue to do that, then we’ll have more seasons like this. But right now, we’re going to enjoy it, and I’m able to help out those who made this possible. Because it was not a single effort.”

The end of the FedEx Cup playoffs signals the start of golf’s winter (events never stop, but it is now a while until there is one to really get the blood pumping), but it is the period where another of Spite’s teams – his business team – can really get to work.

Top golfers earn plenty of money on the course but even more off it, and now is Spieth’s chance to turn his on-course success of the last 12 months into an off-course endorsement plan that will ensure he makes money hand-over-fist for many years to come.

He is already clothed head-to-toe in Under Armour, who have also given him an equity share in the business (as they have done with other leading athletes like Stephen Curry). A logo has been patented, meaning Spieth-specific clothing can only be a few months away.

If it all sounds reminiscent of Tiger Woods, then that is because it is. Woods went through a similar ‘corporate restructuring’ after his breakthrough 1997 season, a move that ensured he made far more away from the golf course than he ever did on it. If Spieth’s team are similarly savvy, he now will to – perhaps launching Under Armour as a viable golf brand in the same way Woods did with nike (who barely had a presence in the sport before him).

Spieth has just produced one of the all-time great years in golf. It will be interesting to see how he capitalises on that, and how different his look and ‘brand’ is by the time 2016 rolls around.

“We won on some awesome tracks this year, some beautiful places,” he added. “You have to conquer the golf course first and foremost. You have to conquer yourself, your own emotions, you have to win the mental battle with yourself.

“It gives me a lot of confidence going forward for the next 20 years.”

2. … but of course Jason had his day too…

While it will ultimately go down as Spieth’s year, no-one will soon forget the streak of golf Jason Day produced from the Open Championship onwards. Victory after victory after victory, that first major championship and, for a brief moment, the world no. 1 spot too.

To coincide with that rise, Day’s sponsors RBC have produced a short documentary on the Australian’s rise to that lofty position in the rankings. Usually we wouldn’t go in for what is essentially a paid-for advertorial – but Day’s story is so unlikely, and so endearing, as to make it work.

If you like golf, and want to understand Day, this is worth 10 minutes of your time.

3. Needed more spin, Warney

And, on a less cinematic note, here’s Shane Warne trying to stick one close to the pin at the famous 17th hole at St Andrews … from a balcony of the nearby hotel.

The famous Australian cricketer did not quite have the control on the ball to keep it on the dancefloor, but it was a pretty good effort nonetheless.

Warne and co. are in Fife this week for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, an event where plenty of amateurs you would recognise (and a few you wouldn’t, but whose bank balances would make your jaw drop) play alongside the pros at Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St Andrews.

All of which is to say, don’t be surprised to see a few more shots like Warne’s this week. The first (presumably awful) shot, that is … in competition they would never let you play from someone’s deluxe suite!

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