By Brian Keogh
Tom McKibbin. Photo by Golffile
Holywood debutant Tom McKibbin insists nerves won't be an issue for him as Ireland seeks a fifth Home Internationals win in six years at Lahinch.
The Co Down prodigy (16) joins fellow debutants in Naas' Robert Brazill (22), Carton House's Keith Egan (26) and Malone's Matthew McClean (26) knowing he has experienced players to give him a helping hand.
"I don't really get nervous any more," said McKibbin, who is the youngest debutant since Rory McIlroy played at 16 in 2005. "I'm more excited than nervous. I just stand up and hit it now."
McKibbin will partner Warrenpoint's vastly experienced four-time Home Internationals winner Colm Campbell (32) when Ireland take in Scotland in today’s foursomes.
"Collie is twice my age," said McKibbin, who won the Peter McEvoy Trophy and the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley in the US this year and already signed a letter of intent for the University of Florida. "It's been great playing with Collie.
"He's obviously played in a lot of these and won, so it's great to have his experience there."
While England has two Walker Cup players in Tom Sloman and Thomas Plumb, Ireland has three in Mallow's James Sugrue, Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty and Portmarnock's Conor Purcell and while fatigue may be a factor given their exertions in Hoylake, this is an Irish team with strength in depth.
Co Sligo's Sean Flanagan, now playing for Portmarnock, returns to the side for the first time since 2016 after an excellent summer while Irish Close champion Ronan Mullarney from Galway has been playing some of the most consistent golf of his life.
Massereene's Tiarnan McLarnon is a reliable weapon with an excellent record having won all six matches he played last year while and debutants McKibbin, Brazill, Egan and McClean have confidence in spades.
Brazill, who partners Amateur champion Sugrue in the foursomes, sees this week as a big stepping stone in his career.
"Two years ago I would not have seen myself in this position, not at all," said Brazill, who won the West of Ireland last year before topping the Bridgestone Order of Merit this term.
Robert Brazill (Naas). Photo by Golffile
"Golf wasn't really number one, I preferred to be on a football pitch so I made a decision I might as well give golf a crack and see what happens."
A huge hitter, he’s now a straight one two and his power can only help in Lahinch, where the wind will blow.
“The bad shots are so much better now,” he said. “Two years ago I had a miss that could put me in a different county. Now I am a lot more controlled with what I’m doing. My putting has come on massively. It’s all gotten better. Two years ago, I could hit any shot I wanted but I could also hit the worst shot of all time.”
Egan loves Lahinch, as he showed when reaching the final of the “South” in July and he’s been handed the honour of leading Ireland off in the foursomes with the confident Portmarnock man Purcell.
“Around this time last year I found out the Home Internationals was going to be in Lahinch so I made a special to try and get here,” Egan said. “I’m delighted to be here more than anything.”
His decision to start working with Gavin Lunny at Naas has paid dividends and if his putting is on song, he will be a major asset to John Carroll’s side.
He’s ambitious too and set himself the target of winning every match he plays.
Six points is the dream and the goal,” he said. “I’ve played here a lot of times and got a lot of good results. I’m confident that I can win any match around here. Main thing is to win my match against Scotland in the morning. I want to do as well as I can for Ireland.”
Matthew McClean (Malone). Photo by Golffile
Belfast native McClean (26) narrowly missed out on automatic selection through the Bridgestone Order of Merit and having played consistently well all year, he will be up for it when he eventually appears, presumably in this afternoon’s singles.
A qualified optician, he’s been playing full time golf for the past 18 months and has the ball-striking talent to wear down any opponent.
“One of my goals was to make the Ireland team last year and it didn’t work out so it was my main goal this year,” he said. “It’s nice to get the call up.
“I went to University of Ulster in Coleraine to study Optometry. I qualified as an optician four years ago and then I worked for a couple of years in England. I didn’t really play any competitive golf. I was working in Sunderland, living in Newcastle. I lost my world ranking because I didn’t play any competitive golf.
“I had to do a year of professional exams and it was just too much work to play golf at any sort of competitive level so I just said I would take the two years out. I still played social golf. I came back at the start of last year. I still do a bit of work but throughout the summer it’s pretty much full time golf. Throughout the winter, I’ll work full time to keep myself going during the summer.
“Consistency is the big difference in my game really. I think my putting and short game is sharper because I’m doing more practice. I don’t have as many misses. I’ve been working to have one shot (fade). If I’m going to miss it, I know I’m going to miss it right. if you can take out the left side of the golf course, you’ve got one less thing to worry about. I think it helps with the scores and consistency.
“I was quietly confident of making the team but you don’t know until someone tells you.”
As for the pressure he might feel, the affable Malone man said: “I’m sure it will be similar to the likes of a semi-final or a final of one of the championships. Obviously there will be more pressure and a higher standard golf. I’m pretty confident going into it. I’ll try my best to get a few wins anyway.”
McKibbin is a prodigious talent and it’s clear that National Coach Neil Manchip is a big believer in his talent having watched him rise impressively through the Boys ranks and test himself in professional events such as last year’s Shotclock Masters or the NI Open at Galgorm Castle.
Keith Egan (Carton House). Photo by Golffile
Having followed in the footsteps of 2019 Walker Cup star Akshay Bhatia (2018), Joaquin Niemann (2017), Marcus Kinhult (2015) and Scottie Scheffler (2014) by winning the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley and then come home to imitate Gavin Moynihan, Mark Power, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Brian Davis and Steve Webster by winning the Peter McEvoy Trophy, we’re clearly talking about a serious talent.
Caolan Rafferty impressed for much of the Walker Cup and may well make the 2021 team should be maintain his form.
His partnership with McLarnon will be key for Ireland today while Flanagan and Mullarney have a great understanding and the short game skills to make life a nightmare for the accomplished Euan McIntosh and . Kieran Cantley.
08:00 England v Wales:
Tom Sloman & Tom Plumb v Ben Chamberlain & Lewys Sanges;
Ben Jones & Jake Burnage v Jake Hapgood & Jacob Davies;
Matty Lamb & Ben Hutchinson v Connor Jones & George Bryant;
Bailey Gill & Joshua McMahon v Matt Roberts & Kieron Harman;
Callum Farr & Ben Schmidt v Gaelen Trew & Tom Froom.
08:45 Ireland v Scotland
Conor Purcell & Keith Egan v Ryan Lumsden & Matt Clark;
James Sugrue & Robert Brazill v James Wilson & Connor McKinney;
Caolan Rafferty & Tiarnán McLarnon v George Burns & Eric McIntosh;
Colm Campbell & Tom McKibbin v Lewis Irvine & Stuart Easton;
Ronan Mullarney & Séan Flanagan v Euan McIntosh & Kieran Cantley