Maynooth University student Ryan Griffin feels the opportunity to earn life changing money was too good to turn down as he looks to cash in at next week’s inaugural $1.5 million LIV Golf Promotions event in Abu Dhabi.
Griffin is one of two Irishmen in the field as he joins fellow Irish amateur Max Kennedy at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. The pair were given exemptions into the opening round after representing the International team at the Arnold Palmer Cup in the summer.
The 23-year-old psychology student comes from a single income family, his father is a labourer while his mother doesn’t have permanent employment. The $25 entry fee into the LIV version of Q-School is already a snip but the rewards could be lucrative, as he bids for a $200,000 payday and a place in the 2024 LIV Golf League where he could earn a minimum of $1.5 million next season. Last place in each LIV individual leaderboard pockets 120,000 before team earnings are added.
“This would be life changing money for everyone,” remarks Griffin who was a latecomer to championship golf as he couldn’t afford to play Boys events until an opportunistic outing at the Ulster Boys Championship.
“I didn’t really play Boys golf because we didn’t have the money to be splashing out and travelling the country. Mum doesn’t work so it’s just Dad who would work the whole time, we were not well off.
“By the time I played my first GUI event was the Ulster Boys in Portrush so the only reason I played that was because one of my friends had a caravan opposite the course so if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t have played,” adds the Paddy Harrington Scholar who is already guaranteed $1,000 but needs a top-3 finish in next week’s 72-hole event to earn a LIV place.
The Ballybofey man who plays his Senior Cup and Barton Shield golf in Rosapenna has been consistent on the Irish Championship circuit over the last two years, with top-10 finishes in the North, South, East, West and Irish Amateur championship. Griffin also made the cut at the 2022 Amateur Championship on debut, and has won two Student Series events, an Irish Intervarsities title and the R&A Student Tour Series Order of Merit – which earned him his Palmer Cup call.
A World Amateur Golf Ranking of 1090 compared to Kennedy’s 78 shows that this may be Griffin’s best chance of fast tracking his way into a professional career. This will in fact be his first appearance in a professional event as he rubs shoulders with former US PGA champion Jason Dufner and former Ryder Cup players Victor Dubuisson and Jeff Overton.
“It’s a great opportunity I was talking to Foxy (Noel Fox) and he said one of his players who is on one of the mini tours was trying to get into it and they got back to him and said he didn’t have enough qualifications to get into it. When he told me that you realise how lucky you are to have this opportunity,” Griffin explains.
“One of my buddies from home is coming over to caddie for me. We are going to give ourselves the very best opportunity to do well and I know the press release will give the full field and I know there will be a few PGA Tour pros, a major champion so you could get an unbelievable draw!”
Missing from the field are Ireland’s Walker Cup stars Mark Power, Liam Nolan, Alex Maguire and Matthew McClean who all opted against taking up their exemptions while none of the US Walker Cup team are competing either.
“I’m not sure what the lads reasons are for not going because I think it’s just an unbelievable opportunity,” admits Griffin who played against Austin Greaser and Gordon Sargent at the Palmer Cup so he is no stranger to the elite and perhaps punching above his weight.
“It’s different the Palmer Cup lads the Americans I played with I wouldn’t expect them to play because they all have ties already with the PGA Tour University and Ludvig Åberg came through that and look how well he has done so I would say a lot of them will try to be the next Ludvig so you can understand why they wouldn’t go. In my position I have no ties to anything, it’s a great opportunity so you might as well take it.”
Saudi Arabia has an atrocious human rights record which has come under intense criticism as the PIF tries to wrap its tentacles around the world of sport. Golf has been no different with big name PGA Tour players like Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson moving across to widespread uproar. Graeme McDowell has received scathing remarks for how he spoke about LIV prior to their first event in 2022.
Griffin is well aware of the issues surrounding Saudi Arabia and the PIF but believes people like him are in a different situation to some of golf’s high profile stars taking part in LIV’s make the rich richer scheme. Even earning what is seen as LIV’s spare change would be life changing money if he could force his way through the door that has been left ajar into what is largely a closed shop.
“We do a lot of ethics in college and things like that around human rights and obviously there is so much going on that is so wrong on so many levels in Saudi Arabia but at the end of the day you have to think of yourself and the opportunity that you could get out of this simple game,” explains Griffin who still has a semester left of his final year in Maynooth.
“There’s being selfish and then doing the right thing for you so this is something I have to be selfish about.
“A lot of the players who went from the PGA Tour to LIV was very confrontational because none of them were short of money as it was and I can understand why they got such negative feedback but for people like me, it’s a lifechanging amount of money and you can support the people who have supported you over the last few years. I have to take this opportunity, you can’t keep everyone happy if they have a problem with it.
“The Q-School in Europe is multiple stages, this is four rounds of golf it’s a no brainer to go. I would like to finish my final semester out but if it comes to the case where I don’t have the chance to then fair enough I’ll sing the papers then howaya DJ! I’m playing a Pinnacle 3 with a black line,” he says jokingly.
Almost every player who moves to LIV from the DP World Tour or PGA Tour is met with scathing criticism but Griffin has been surprised by the widespread encouragement he has received ahead of the LIV Promotions event from December 8-10.
“Everyone around me is buzzing! The Maynooth lads are heading over to the Canaries at the same time. I was supposed to be going to that and I had to cancel that because I’m going to this. I know the lads will be keeping up with the scores over there,” continues Griffin who unsurprisingly has not watched a LIV event before and used DP World Tour highlights to do some study on Abu Dhabi GC.
“I was actually expecting some negative feedback and criticism to be honest but nobody has said anything to me about it. Everyone I have spoken to is delighted that I have been given this opportunity and look just absolutely go for it and enjoy every minute of it. That’s exactly what I will do. You would like to play well but if not, I will still enjoy every bit of it we have the flights booked until Sunday night so you can still get out and enjoy some golf. It’s Abu Dhabi, sunshine, in the middle of December with one of your best pals, it’s not too bad.”
Griffin’s mantra is very much glass half full, happy go lucky, “the wee man from Ballybofey going over to give it a lash” so naturally he is confident. It only takes one week in golf to change the trajectory of a player’s career and he hopes next week is his time.
“I’ve been absolutely delighted with the work I have done with the coaches in Maynooth. The facilities we have and the courses we play golf on are the best in Ireland but obviously you have the weather and it’s weather dependent and you have to think along those lines.
“I am delighted with the work and you can see it in the stats and the skill games we play so everything is progressing in a very positive way. Going in next week with a lot of confidence and can’t wait to enjoy every minute of it.”
The odds are slim, with Griffin and Kennedy placed in round one where they will need to make the top 20 before joining 14 exempt players in the second round where scores will be reset.