The wait is almost over for Ireland’s quartet of debutants about to win their first Senior caps at the Home Internationals at Lahinch Golf Club on Wednesday.
Holywood’s Tom McKibbin is the youngest player selected; the 16-year old earning promotion from the Boys team after a year in which he won the Peter McEvoy Trophy and the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
“It means a lot,” said McKibbin of the call-up. “It should be a really good week. I’ve been really looking forward to it these past few weeks. This has been a goal of mine this season. To be on the team is pretty special. I felt like I had played enough good golf to make the team.
“I couldn’t wait to come down and play with all the lads. Yesterday [Monday] was my first time at Lahinch. I had never played it before. It was unbelievable. It’s really spectacular. Some great tee shots and it’s in phenomenal condition as well.”
Joining McKibbin will be Malone’s Matthew McClean and Keith Egan from Carton House who have also been selected for the first time following impressive seasons.
“The last year and a half I’ve played golf full time so it’s nice to see some reward for that,” said McClean. “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. it’s nice to get the call-up.”
It’s been a long road back to the top of the amateur game for McClean who parked his golfing ambitions for a significant amount of time to focus his attention on a career away from the game.
“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,” he added.
“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.”
It’s a similar story for Egan who is undergoing a balancing act of his own, working as a personal trainer and manager in FLYEFit gym in CHQ in Dublin whilst juggling his amateur golf schedule.
“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. I’m delighted to be here more than anything,” reflected Egan ahead of the tournament.
“I’ve played more tournaments this year. I hadn’t played more than three tournaments in Ireland since 2011. My main objective was to play more events. I was in the States for five years. [where he studied at Clayton State University in Atlanta. I came home at the start of last year. the year before that, 2017, I stayed in the States for the summer working.
“I started working full time with Gavin Lunny (pro at Naas GC) and he has made a big difference. attention to detail is massive with Gavin. Small things like how I approach practice. My setup. How I approach the game in terms of my warmups. I started working with his wife, who’s a TPI instructor. I’m happy how it’s going.”
Last but not least in getting the chance to shine on the senior international stage will be Bridgestone Order of Merit champion, Rob Brazill (22) from Naas who completes the four newcomers in the side. It wasn’t all that long ago that Brazill had eyes for another sport but much has changed since his sole focus shifted to golf.
“This is class. I cannot wait to get it going,” Brazill gushed.
“Two years ago, I would not have seen myself in this position, not at all. I’m more focused about everything when it comes to golf. Three years ago, I made a conscious decision. 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.
“Getting to play The Amateur Championship last year was a big thing for me because that was my first time playing at that level. That’s as high a level as you’ll get in amateur golf and I realised that I could play at that level. I’ve kept pushing on since. This winter and the start of next season are going to be big for me.”
That’s not to say that this week won’t be big too. It’s just that with experience, Brazill now knows how to handle such occasions.
“In the last two years, I’ve gotten over nerves. It’s only a game. What’s the point in being nervous on the first tee? At the end of the day, it is just another game of golf.”
IRELAND TEAM IN FULL: Rob Brazill (Naas), Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint), Keith Egan (Carton House), Sean Flanagan (Portmarnock), Matthew McClean (Malone), Tom McKibbin (Holywood), Tiarnán McLarnon (Massereene), Ronan Mullarney (Galway), Conor Purcell (Portmarnock), Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk), James Sugrue (Mallow).