The First Look: Ireland's European hopefuls for 2022

by Ronan MacNamara

The new DP World Tour gets underway on January 20th after the farcical scenes in the South African swing in November. The new dawn represents a fresh start for some of our Irish players and a chance to progress and reap the rewards of the increased prize funds for others. 

The Challenge Tour starts next month with numerous Irish hopefuls looking to secure promotion next season. 

Five Irish golfers will enter the 2022 season with different agendas and after Seamus Power stepped up to the plate as the next player coming through behind Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry can any of our European hopefuls take inspiration from the Waterford native's exploits?

Paul has been there Dunne that. Can he get back there?

Three years ago Paul Dunne was ranked as high as 65th in the world, had beaten Rory McIlroy to the British Masters title in 2017 after a heroic chip in on the 72nd hole for a final round 61. The Greystones native was making appearances in the World Golf Championships having burst onto the scene at the 2015 Open Championship where he held the 54-hole lead as an amateur at St Andrews.

Now ranked 1760th in the world, the last three years have been a constant downward spiral. In fact a ranking that low is an insult to the talent we all know Dunner possesses. Issues off the tee were always part and parcel of his game but add persistent wrist injury problems, a loss of confidence and Covid-19 - making a comeback on the European Tour (now DP World Tour) in a pandemic ridden world has become near impossible given the travel restrictions and the measly prize funds – to his situation and you get a seemingly unassailable slump

The former Walker Cup star has made the move to Dubai as part of his 2022 preparations and he did show glimpses that he was starting to turn a corner – more like the 111 bus turning right off the main street in Athboy to head for the Trim road rather than a Ferrari – towards the end of the 2021 season with promising opening rounds at the Mallorca Open and Alfred Dunhill Links although he was unable to build on them.

With the 150th Open Championship scheduled to take place at St Andrews and Dunne expressing a desire to return to the Old Course in July, perhaps the stars might finally start to align for the Wicklow man and with the added motivation of coming full circle at the Home of Golf, he could start to climb the golfing ladder once again.

Murphy is the man

The emergence of John Murphy last year has been quite something. As questions loomed large over what was coming behind Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry as Pádraig Harrington entered his 50th year and Graeme McDowell despite still winning in 2019 and 2020 continued to struggle with the modern game, John Murphy caught the eye.

While we were all sitting at home crossing off the days on the calendar waiting for golf courses to open, a lanky ginger kid was doing us proud in Seminole as Murphy forged a strong partnership alongside fellow Irishman Mark Power at the Walker Cup.

The Kinsale native turned pro shortly after and has had a blistering start to life as a Tour professional. The 23-year-old earned his full Challenge Tour card following a string of good performances on both the Challenge Tour and European Tour. He finished in the top-10 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and looks set for a coming of age year this year.

Promotion from the Challenge Tour to the DP World Tour is top of the agenda and could he become the first Irishman since Raymie Burns in 1994 to win the second-tier order of merit?

Caldwell can let the shackles off

We have seen what winning can do to a player in the case of Seamus Power on the PGA Tour and while Jonathan Caldwell hasn’t had the same kick on after winning the Scandinavian Mixed he can be one of the main beneficiaries from the new DP World Tour.

After years of slugging it out on the feeder tours, the Clandeboye native realised a life long dream in Sweden last year which earned him a two-year exemption on the DP World Tour. The 37-year-old played professional golf for the first time in Dubai at the AVIV Dubai Championship. No longer entering a season concerned with how much money he needs to earn to maintain his playing privileges, there is no doubt that Caldwell can win again and with the increased prize funds for some of the lesser events he can boost his world ranking throughout the year.

Promising Kearney can make the grade

Niall Kearney was incredibly unfortunate not to earn a full DP World Tour card. The 33-year-old was undoubtedly a victim of the old European Tour system.

Playing on a limited status last season, Kearney was sixth in stroke average on the European Tour (69.63) from just 48 rounds where he registered two top-10 finishes and a top-5 but that wasn’t enough to earn a full playing card as he narrowly missed out. The Dubliner was relying on withdrawals and sponsor invites to Valderrama and Dubai but they never materialised

2022 is a big year for him and it’s all about confidence. A win somewhere would set the wheels in motion as there is no doubt he has the game to compete at this level.

Playing with an improved categorical status this year, a similar stretch of form coupled with the increased prize funds should see the Royal Dublin golfer become a permanent fixture on the DP World Tour and who knows after that.

The Holywood kid

Tom McKibbin is only 19 years of age but it seems like he has been around for a long time. His talent has always been mooted, being compared to Rory McIlroy will do that.

Like Murphy, McKibbin enjoyed his maiden year as a touring professional, as he earned an improved status on the Challenge Tour after just seven starts last term.

Targeting a full DP World Tour card via the second tier, the Holywood native also showed promise when making the step up to the top table in Europe last year. A 26th place finish on home soil at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational the highlight.

The teenager breezed through the first stage of Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying last fall and had it not been for visa issues hampering his preparation and delaying his arrival to the second stage until the eleventh hour, things might have turned out differently.

An old head on young shoulders, the laid back nature of McKibbin has served him well amidst all the chaos that European golf had to contend with and will have to do so as Omicron wreaks havoc throughout the continent.

The Challenge Tour is full of young up and coming players and McKibbin is one of the standout names from the current crop and he can follow Murphy and graduate this season.



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