A World Number One, three players inside the top-30 in the Official World Golf Rankings, FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai winner, BMW PGA Championship winner, PGA Tour winner and potentially three Irish representatives on the 2023 European Ryder Cup team in Rome.
It all seems rosy in the garden for Irish golf heading into the new year – at least at the top level.
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry have been at the top of world golf for the last few years while Seamus Power has proved a worthy third leg of this Irish golfing trilogy after the decline of Graeme McDowell and the seniority of Pádraig Harrington.
While Irish golf has punched heavily above its weight on the major stage, the question has always been, what’s coming behind?
Gone are the days of this country producing solid European Tour pros and winners as a support act to the big performers in major championships and in Ryder Cups.
While McIlroy and Lowry have been battling it out on the PGA Tour, in majors and in Ryder Cups, the search for an up-and-coming crop of the likes of Damien McGrane, Paul McGinley, Michael Hoey and Peter Lawrie has yielded very little over the last five or six years.
Outside of Jonathan Caldwell’s 2021 Scandinavian Mixed win and Paul Dunne’s British Masters victory in 2017, following the Irish on the DP World Tour has been tough to stomach but things might be changing in that regard as a new crop of youngsters begin to emerge.
In Tom McKibbin, Gary Hurley and John Murphy, Irish golf fans can enter 2023 with plenty of optimism.
McKibbin, who turned 20 a fortnight ago, earned his DP World Tour card via the Challenge Tour in just his first full season as a professional and he has adjusted to life on the top tier seamlessly thus far.
Four out of four cuts including three top-20 finishes have the Holywood native a healthy 33rd in the early Race to Dubai Rankings. Cut from the same cloth as fellow club-mate Rory McIlroy, hopes are extremely high for McKibbin who has already made great strides in his burgeoning career.
In 2015, excitement was high after the emergence of Ireland’s ‘Famous Five’ from the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team. A quintet of Gary Hurley, Paul Dunne, Gavin Moynihan, Jack Hume and Cormac Sharvin promised large but has ultimately proved to be a false dawn to date, despite Dunne’s brilliant start.
West Waterford native Hurley now finds himself remarkably top of the pile after a rise from an equally dramatic slump which has seen him go from having no status to the DP World Tour in the space of a year.
The 29-year-old almost gave up the game in 2019 but has astonishingly progressed from the Alps Tour to Europe’s top tier. 2022 saw Hurley claim his maiden professional win at the Alps de Andalucia before earning his Challenge Tour card via the Alps Tour Order of Merit.
Momentum is everything in sport and he rode that wave to win his DP World Tour card at Q-School in November. Hurley hasn’t looked out of place and notched a career-high finish of 14th at last month’s Mauritius Open.
Kinsale native John Murphy impressed at the Walker Cup two years ago and began 2022 with an invite to Pebble Beach on the PGA Tour. In his first full season on the Challenge Tour he earned his DP World Tour card at Q-School to join Hurley in the list of graduates.
There is also cause for optimism for the Irish on the Challenge Tour.
Covid has heavily disrupted the careers of some of our young players who turned professional in 2020 but last year we saw some green shoots from those looking to make their way to the top level.
Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell began the year with no status on any tour and after impressing on the Alps Tour, he took advantage of some Challenge Tour invites to earn a full card for this season.
The Dubliner spent the winter period down under in Australia where a Monday qualifying success paved the way for a career-high 7th place finish at the Australian Open. The 2019 Walker Cup player will be looking to keep his momentum going this year.
Ruaidhri McGee returned from a sabbatical of sorts in the states to come within a whisker of making the Challenge Tour Grand Final but a full card this year will provide him with more ammunition to try and earn promotion to the DP World Tour.
Meanwhile, it’s rebuild and redeem time for Dunne. Once as high as 65th in the world after holding off Rory McIlroy at that 2017 British Masters before teeing it up at World Golf Championships, the Greystones native will be resigned to the Challenge Tour this year as he bids to climb back up the ladder after a few years of injury hell and driver struggles.
Dunne was last in driving accuracy on the DP World Tour last year although his short game skills appear as strong as ever. 2023 will be a case of marrying the two together as the 2015 Open Championship 54-hole co-leader searches for a recipe for success.
At 30, his best years are still ahead of him and a ranking of lower than 1,300 is an insult to his talents.