McKibbin & Mehaffey lead the Irish challengers at ISPS Handa World Invitational

John Shortt
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McKibbin & Mehaffey lead the Irish challengers at ISPS Handa World Invitational

Tom McKibbin (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

The ground-breaking ISPS Handa World Invitational got underway today at Galgorm Castle & Massereene in Northern Ireland in the first tri-sanctioned event (European Tour, LPGA & LET) in the Northern Hemisphere with 144 men and 144 women vying for the titles.

After a changeable few days weather-wise the host courses were playing a little softer than in recent weeks and the scoring was hot on both leaderboards with players split across both venues.

Ireland’s Tom McKibbin is the leading home grown talent after day one and he’s just outside the top-10 (T11) after a 3-under par round at Massereene and he found the weather hard to deal with.

“Nice to be bogey-free, especially with the rain, it was hammering it down when we started and for the first nine holes, which made it pretty tricky. Had to grind a lot and make some good pars in the conditions, stayed patient,” said McKibbin.

“The event has been great. Pretty cool to have men and women competing and to see how the top women players compete too. I could see more events like this happening.

“I’m looking forward to Galgorm tomorrow. Everyone has said to me ‘you know Galgorm well’ but the way the weather has been recently, it’s a different test to what we are used to. Key is to keep the ball in play,” he added.

England’s Jordan Smith leads the way for the men after a stunning round of 62 (-8) at Galgorm Castle and he has a two shot lead over Mathias Schmid and David Drysdale while the chasing pack includes McKibbin and there is also amateur Mark Power at 2-under in T24, Niall Kearney at 1-under followed by Michael Hoey, Simon Thornton, Paul McBride, Conor O’Rourke and John Murphy all at level par.

When asked about his opening 62, Smith commented; “Not half bad. Not half bad, everything came together really. I’ve been struggling with my iron play recently, but that and my wedge game and my putting were really, really good today. I’m not going to lie.

“We went up to Massereene on Tuesday and it was rock hard. It was like a runway. If you missed the greens they were bouncing sort of 30, 40, 50 yards off the green. Even though it’s short, it was difficult with it being so firm, so I think with it being a bit softer here, the scoring has been better.

“So yeah, just carry on for tomorrow. More of that would be great.”

In the Women’s event Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh also had a day to savour at Galgorm with a round of 63 (-7) and she was joined on that score by Jennifer Kupcho from the USA and Korea’s Chella Choi with Emma Challey one shot further back.

Ireland’s Olivia Mehaffey, making her debut in Ireland as a professional this week, is well placed after a 3-under par round at Galgorm saw her in the clubhouse in T13 position while the other Irish player in the women’s field, amateur Aideen Walsh, didn’t fare as well and she returned a 2-over par round at Massereene.

“It was solid. Hit the ball nicely, drove it nicely, hit good putts but didn’t hole much. Could have been a lot lower but it was solid and I’m happy with where my game is at. Just have to stay patient,” said Mehaffey.

“It kinda feels like my pro debut because it’s at home. It’s my first LPGA start as a pro, so kinda in a way it feels like my debut even though I’ve been pro a few months now. Few nerves on the first tee but I felt really comfortable out there, which is nice.

“I actually ended up playing a six-hole match with Soren Kjeldsen yesterday – Gary caddied for him for a few years – and I was a bit nervous when he said come on, we’ll go play with him. That really helped settle me, I felt really comfortable with him and he’s such an elite player.

“I had a lot of family, my friends, cousins, my aunts, my uncle, my best friends from school. It was cool to see everybody and I think there’ll be a lot out there tomorrow. I’ve managed to get a lot of tickets, so that’s good,” she added.

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