“As a 14-year-old it was unbelievable to watch that Walker Cup back then”

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy at 2007 Walker Cup (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

It’s rare to see a picture of Rory McIlroy without a swarm of people surrounding him. But looking closely at this photograph you can see a baby faced fourteen-year-old Matthew McClean in awe of one of his heroes.

McClean had a front row seat at one of the most dramatic Walker Cup contests in recent memory in 2007 at Royal County Down where an 18-year-old McIlroy spearheaded a Great Britain and Ireland charge that ultimately fell a point short to a US team containing Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel, Webb Simpson and Chris Kirk.

“I remember, I was 14 watching that at RCD, it was one of the first events I had gone to. I remember the feeling walking on the golf course and how good it looked, watching the guys hit balls on the range so as a 14-year-old it was unbelievable to go and watch that Walker Cup back then,” McClean recalls. “It feels much different to be in the position to play it but it’s the same idea sixteen years on there will be kids going to the Walker Cup and taking inspiration from watching the event and maybe 15 or sixteen years later they will become top golfers.


“The photo is pretty cool obviously with Rory in it and it shows how big the Walker Cup is to pretty much all the golfers. For GB&I growing up it’s the pinnacle of golf you can reach.

“I remember Colt Knost hit a 2-iron down the last to a couple of feet to win it which was unbelievable at the time. Having played RCD a few times you know how hard it is to stand on the 18th tee and make birdie never mind eagle to win it. I remember being up the right of 18 when he hit the shot in. I followed Rory a good bit and there was a huge buzz around the place.”

Sixteen years on, McClean, now thirty with curly hair and a bushy beard, will come full circle next weekend at St Andrews after being selected as one of four Irish players on the ten-man Great Britain and Ireland team who are bidding to stop USA’s four-in-a-row dream in the centenary contest at the Home of Golf.

The Malone man will be joined by Liam Nolan, Mark Power and Alex Maguire after a stellar twelve months which saw him win the US Mid-Amateur title last year.

“Delighted to get picked and get it out of the way it’s a long year and over the summer it’s always at the front of your mind so just happy that I was able to play golf over the last six weeks and make sure I was one of the guys on the team. Hopefully there will be a similar buzz in St Andrews next weekend and it will be a huge atmosphere to play in.

“It’s great to get as many as possible on the team from an Irish point of view. Four is a great number and we will go over with the other guys who will bring a lot to the team we all want to come together as one team and be as successful as possible.”

McClean is the eldest player on the team by six years and while the USA are heavy favourites on paper with every player ranked inside the top-20 in the WAGR including World Number One Gordon Sargent compared to GB&I’s one (John Gough, 13th) but he feels his experience in team golf and the close bond of the GB&I players can help them narrow the gap perhaps.

“On paper it’s quite obvious the difference in world rankings between the two teams. They are a very strong team. We have to go into it knowing we are against a really good team. There’s no point underestimating them we know we will have to earn every point and put huge effort in and that’s what we will do. It’s about going out with maximum effort and confidence knowing if we play well as a team over a links course we will give ourselves chances so we need to believe we can win. If we go in with that attitude we can win.

“Over the years even back in schools golf from whatever standard to Walker Cup I have been lucky to be part of a lot of good teams. Obviously a few Home Internationals wins with Ireland so it’s been good a lot of successful teams I have been a part of and the Walker Cup is a huge step up but that’s where you want to be playing against the best in the world and give yourself chances so no matter what happens over the weekend it will be one to remember forever and it’s a huge honour to represent a GB&I Walker Cup team. I think by a few years I am the elder statesman of the team!”

The Walker Cup is the pinnacle of amateur golf and for many it is the ideal setting to bow out of amateur golf and make the leap into the professional ranks. For McClean, it will be back to the day job as an optometrist, for now.

“I won’t turn pro after this month anyway. I couldn’t go to Q-School this year. The only way to turn pro is to have a card in your hand to play competitively without too many worries. Even after the next few weeks you can get a few invites. I won’t turn pro after this I will go back to the job for a few months anyway and have a break from golf for a few months it has been a long season. I’ll play a bit next year there are still a lot of events I will get invites to so I will take more time off golf and play a good chunk of the amateur season in the summer and see where things lie next September.”

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