If you are looking for daily reports from the DP World Tour’s Bahrain Championship, this is your warning. Look elsewhere.
The fears of the disappointing Q-School results in November are about to be realised as Tom McKibbin’s decision to skip this week for a well earned rest means Ireland will have no players competing on the DP World Tour this week.
This is the second time already this season that we will have no home hopefuls teeing it up after drawing a blank at the South African Open Championship in November.
However, the lack of presence in Bahrain this week should draw huge concerns around a dearth of Irish talent coming through in the men’s professional game.
McKibbin’s absence shows the comfort he is enjoying on the DP World Tour that he can take a deserved break following two top-20 finishes in three starts to 2024 making it no missed cuts in five outings to begin the season.
It should not be up to a 21-year-old to fly the flag for golf on this island on weekly basis.
At 28th in the Race to Dubai, he can afford to skip one of the lower ranked events on the DP World Tour but the concern is that this week, there is nobody there to step in and fill the void to pique Irish interest.
Last season, Ireland had six players at the Final Stage of DP World Tour Q-School. Nobody secured cards for this year.
Only one player, Conor Purcell, made the Grand Final on the Challenge Tour last year while just three finished inside the top-70 to maintain full status on Europe’s second-tier.
In 1997, Pádraig Harrington was one of ten Irishmen in the Dubai Desert Classic field, now we are at a stage where one is the maximum we can muster for some of the lower ranked events on tour.
For example, this week in Bahrain, Denmark have six players teeing it up, Scotland and Sweden have seven each and even Wales have three.
These are concerning numbers for Irish golf fans.
The European Tour changing its name to the DP World Tour a few years ago is apt in the fact that the game of golf is so global. Players from all over the world come and play on the tour, meaning there is pressure on spaces for cards.
For example, when Pádraig Harrington began his maiden campaign on the old European Tour, there were fifteen Irish players already playing their trade at that level.
The numbers should naturally diminish given the global nature of the game nowadays and it’s great to see players from Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Finland etc earning spots on the DP World Tour.
It’s become very competitive at the top but in turn that has increased the rewards.
There’s no doubt that Irish golf has changed for the better over the last twenty years, Harrington himself opened the floodgates for a glorious major championship era where nine major titles were won by players on this island between 2007 and 2014, before Shane Lowry added the 2019 Open Championship to our collection.
When you become the top Irish player now you are expected to contend in majors. Even when Séamus Power won twice on the PGA Tour, new found success after years in the wilderness as a journeyman on the mini tours, he was touted as the next major winner from this country.
Expectations are sky high for McKibbin to make a quick getaway from the DP World Tour to the US and become a major contender.
There is a sense though, that Ireland is starting to fall behind in terms of producing a talent pool. There’s such an urgency to have major championship contenders that perhaps we have lost sight of the importance of producing depth.
During the 90s and early 2000s we had European Tour Order of Merit winners, multiple champions and very successful touring professionals, but that never meant they were entitled by the public to start contending for major championships.
Nevertheless, men’s professional golf in Ireland was still in a very healthy state at the time.
Today, McKibbin (21) is our only full tour card holder under the age of 34 and just one of five players holding full cards on either of the main tours.
There’s a thirteen year gap which represents a missing generation of players who have been lost in the system, somewhere, somehow and something has to happen to avoid the next crop of young players falling by the wayside in an ever increasing competitive environment.