Ronan Mullarney’s never been one to set the world alight in the early hours of a season.
The Galway talent, whose move to the pro ranks coincided with a pandemic that put paid to his initial playing opportunities, has been making up for lost time ever since, earning his stripes on the Alps Tour via Q-School last year; a timely achievement given the EuroPro Tour carpet had been swept from under his feet.
In the season-opening Ein Bay Open in February, Mullarney arrived knowing his game wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Three tournament rounds later and he’d signed for scores of 66, 71 and 67 for a 12-under par tally and outright fifth place.
“It was a nice surprise,” Mullarney says. “Usually I start slow into a year for whatever reason but although it’s been a nice way to start, I still feel like there’s so much more to come, it’s just about getting it out there.
“Although the first event was quite good scoring-wise, it was by no means my A, B or even C game. It was a bit of an effort for anything to go well. It’s not that anything clicked.
“In the second event my putting let me down but really it just shows that there’s still plenty to be working on, not that I needed reminding of that!”
Mullarney would’ve relished the chance to immediately put that missed cut at the Red Sea Little Venice Open to bed, however, after just two tournaments, the Alps Tour entered a six-week hiatus, another mini-pre-season to mull ahead of this week’s April 20th restart at the Alps de las Castillas.
“I would’ve loved to have this break after seven or eight events but it’s a break after a five month break so it’s not ideal,” Mullarney says, though it’s something he’s come to accept given his status.
“As much and all as it’s not ideal, you can’t be looking to drive a Rolls Royce when you’re in the fourth division of professional football either. You need to get to the next level to be more assured of anything and it’s up to me to get there.
“I’ve played two events and now I’ve another six weeks off which is strange but hopefully I can find something that keeps me sharp until April.”
Prior to the Alps Tour teeing off, pastures to practice and fine-tune were provided by the little-known Toro Tour in Spain where Mullarney has become a serial winner, already notching three victories and counting.
“It’s been brilliant to have it,” Mullarney says of the winter tour managed by Calum McGregor.
“Calum is a great guy. He wants us all to do well. It’s like we’re all part of his family. He follows our progression and messages us to keep in touch. You can’t ask for much more really.”
As much and all as the Toro Tour has been a happy hunting ground for Mullarney, he wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s loving life on tour. The former Maynooth man gets his kicks from the intricacies of the game itself rather than the far flung adventures it takes him on, but Mullarney will learn to deal with that side of his day job if it means maximising his performance.
“I don’t mean this in a bad way but by no means do I enjoy it,” he says.
“It’s like a job, and the parts I enjoy are playing well, figuring out a problem I have, visualising a shot and pulling it off.
“That’s what I enjoy, not getting two flights over to Egypt, eating food that you’re not necessarily comfortable eating and all these different things that you have to put up with.
“I’m not really one for travelling if I have a bit of time off anyway. And look, by no means am I complaining, it’s just part of the job and they’re the things I have to accept in order to try to perform my best.”
While leading amateurs of Mullarney’s ilk can come unstuck in the pro ranks by abandoning the tools that got them there, Mullarney has remained unapologetically himself.
With his dad, Tom overseeing his swing, and Dr Kate Kirby of Sport Ireland looking after the six inches between his ears, Mullarney has kept things as simple as possible, opting to forgo a management company until he has a better understanding of his own career trajectory.
“I definitely think management companies have their place but I still don’t feel by any means that I’ve produced what I feel is a good level of golf for me personally, for even two, three or four events in a row in order to gauge where I’m at.
“I want to do that first and see where it leaves me before I decide if I need a management company. At the end of the day I’m on a third level tour so there’s only so much a management company can do for me at the moment.
“Let’s face it, they’re not going to get me an invite to Augusta!”
Right now, Mullarney has a good grasp on his own profit and loss balance sheet, and is under no illusions as to the need to play well in order to break even on any given week.
Given the top-heavy distribution of prize funds at satellite tour events, making bare cuts would hardly put a dent in a player’s expenditure. The Galwegian needs to grind out better than that to make budget.
“I can’t exactly speak to the Alps Tour just yet as Egypt would be an expensive stop, but take EuroPro last year for example – the bare minimum cost would be a €1,000 per week, but generally it was more like €1100-1250 a week,” says Mullarney, who cashed in €2160 for his fifth place finish at this year’s Alps season-opener.
“On EuroPro it was €350 entry, accommodation might be €250, €180 for food, car rental, flights over and back to England could be €200 including bags, depending when you book.
“There’s a lot that goes into it, so you need a top-10 to break even. Thankfully I have Davy helping me out again this year. They’ve been so good to me, and if anyone’s reading this, there’s definitely space for one or two more!”
It would seem a shrewd move to invest in Mullarney’s journey, not just one of the more interesting characters coming through the ranks but undoubtedly one of the most talented.
A relentless winner in the amateur ranks, he’s found nothing daunting about his jump to the pro circuit. Sure, game-time has been limited on account of Covid but when given opportunities, Mullarney hasn’t been afraid to grab them with both hands, like when qualifying for last year’s 150th Open Championship at the Home of Golf.
“It feels like a long time ago,” Mullarney says of a week that would end with a missed cut having raced to the turn in three-under on the opening day.
“There was so much going on leading into that week and the whole experience was brilliant.
“I would’ve liked to be playing a little bit better going in there, no more than the couple of weeks just gone in Egypt. Even through the first 10 or 12 holes at St Andrews, I was doing quite well, three-under, but again, it was an effort.
“That had nothing to do with it being The Open at St Andrews. It could’ve been the St Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur or just playing at home in Galway with a few of the lads. No part of my game felt all that comfortable.”
As Mullarney alludes to, it wasn’t the bright lights of that 150th Open celebration that put him off, it was just timing, and for the week that was in it, he needed his A-game in tow.
“Of course I’d love to be back there but bright lights interest me about as much as cricket,” he says having featured on the Sky Sports TV broadcast on the opening day.
“I just want to be as good as I can possibly be at golf, and all the rest of that noise, somebody else can have it.
“I have no interest in being a well-known name – and I know all those things come if you can get to a very high level of golf – but it just doesn’t bother me.
“I just want to be able to earn enough money to live somewhat comfortably. Being on television and all those other things, I honestly have no interest. I just want to have total ball control and to be a good putter.”
For Mullarney to even contemplate the bi-products of great golf – the fame and fortune – he must first produce the consistency his fledgling career has gone without to date. Only the top-5 players on the Alps Tour Order of Merit can claim a card to the Challenge Tour the following year. In 2022, Mullarney’s fellow former Maynooth star Gary Hurley managed to do just that. And at Q-School, Hurley even went one better, bypassing Europe’s secondary tour altogether to reach the DP World Tour.
“That’s definitely the goal,” Mullarney says. “Obviously there’s a lot of quality players fighting for those cards but when you see what Gary managed to do last year, not only finishing top-5 but then skipping the Challenge Tour altogether and going straight to the DP World Tour via Q-School, it just goes to show how quickly your trajectory can change off the back of some good golf.”
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