John Murphy looking to kick-start rookie season at Ras Al Khaimah Championship

Young Cork golfer admits hectic schedule last year left him drained after qualifying through Q-School

The cold winter days are behind him. John Murphy is in the underground belly of the clubhouse here at Al Hamra Golf Club, putting his clubs away for safekeeping and with a date in the air-conditioned gym awaiting him; all the while counting down to the first day of a new competitive golfing year for the 24-year-old Cork man.

This is Murphy’s rookie season on the DP World Tour and this Ras Al Khaimah Championship marks his first tournament of the year. For the past few days he has been driving balls down a range which, funnily enough, has GAA posts on either side and Titleist yardage markers positioned at various points on the area that at other times provide the two playing pitches for the many Irish footballers, men and women, who have moved to the UAE.

Murphy, smiling at the madness of the towering uprights and nets attached, looks like a man keen to be up and going again. Last year saw him play no fewer than 36 tournaments – on the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and mainly on the Challenge Tour – and by the time he scooped his full tour card at Q-School the batteries were drained, as evidenced by missed cuts in his pre-Christmas outings in South Africa and Mauritius.

“I think I was so tired after the whole year I don’t think I fully got to enjoy it as much as I could or would have liked,” said Murphy of extending his season with that brand new tour card.


“Towards the end of the year when you are that mentally fatigued you are just going to events, going through the motions, so it is nice to have a renewed sense of energy and looking forward to competing. That’s very important in golf, you have to enjoy playing, you can’t just go out and do it because you feel you have to. I’m looking forward to going out and to competing.”

For sure, Murphy looks the part. Tall, and lean; part of that new breed who know the importance of nutrition and physical fitness, of the importance of mental strength ... and, of course, the importance of the golf swing and all of the game’s different facets. Driving. Iron play. Putting. Scrambling. All of it.

“Typically, driving has always been a strength of mine and when I get that putter rolling I tend not to miss too much. I am fairly well rounded in terms of my game. I don’t have a drastic weakness. I think that’s important with golf, it is hard to play the game if one part of your game is really weak. I feel like I don’t have that,” observed Murphy of targeting a strong season.

Certainly, his CV dating back to his amateur days – when as a student at the University of Louisville he won the Byron Nelson award on the US collegiate circuit and represented Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup – is one that formed a critical part of his development in getting ready for life on tour.

“I was lucky I was offered a place in America because when I was 18 or 19 because I certainly had a lot of improving to do, and thankfully made a lot of improvements and adjustments when I went over to America and felt like my game, my whole life developed a lot. I learnt a lot about myself and about my golf; certainly, it put me in good stead for moving into the professional game.

“I still take a lot of learnings from that, just experiences from that time, because it is probably as close as you get to playing professional golf when you are in college golf, still living the tour life, travelling a lot, in rental cars a lot, so it is nice to prepare you for what is to come in professional golf.

“And it obviously gives you a lot of confidence knowing you have played in groups with and competed against and with a lot of top-10 players in the world at this point. It gives you confidence in your own game and that it is not that far away and it is about picking the small margins. I’m looking forward to trying to keep finding them.”

Expectations? “I just want to try and control everything that I can. What I expect of myself is something very important to fall back on because you obviously have a lot of voices coming from the outside, pressure and expectations, that you have to try and separate yourself from.

“If I can control when I feel I can, if I can keep my attitude good, there is just a lot of mental things I have worked on to try and put me in a better frame of mind playing golf. If I can manage all those things, control all those things, then I think the golf can take care of itself.”

Time to let the clubs do the talking.

Ras Al Khaimah Championship lowdown

Purse: €1.85 million (€300,000 to the winner)

Where: Ras Al Khaimah, UAE

The course: Al Hamra Golf Club – 7,400 yards, par 72 – lies on the shores of the Arabian Gulf in the emirate of Ras Al Kahaimah. The course, which incorporates open water lagoons along with desert landscapes, was designed by Peter Harradine and last year played host to back-to-back tournaments on the DP World Tour.

The field: Although many of the tour’s big guns have either returned to the PGA Tour or have taken a week out ahead of a busy stretch stateside, there is still a decent field assembled with Victor Perez, currently heading the Race to Dubai standings, among those remaining in the UAE. The Hojgaard twins, Rasmus and Nicolai, and New Zealander Ryan Fox are also playing.


“I learned a few things over the last few weeks, feel like my game is sort of there and good enough. It’s just putting it all together at the one time. I had a couple of weeks off over Christmas so I’ve probably been a bit rusty. It was a good experience [the two Rolex Series events] and hopefully I can take some of those tough lessons into the next few weeks.” – Tom McKibbin on looking to bounce back from missed cuts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Irish in the field: Pádraig Harrington is completing a three-week stretch in the Gulf that started with a top-5 in Abu Dhabi before a missed cut in the Dubai Desert Classic. The tour veteran is also joined by three of Ireland’s up-and-coming players, with Tom McKibbin and fellow rookies Gary Hurley and John Murphy also in the field.

Betting: No surprise to find the Hojgaard boys to the top of the betting, with Rasmus priced at 16-1 and Nicolai rated an 18-1 chance ... Pádraig Harrington is 35-1 ... Julien Brun played well in Dubai and looks decent value at 45-1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports, live coverage from 8.30am).

Pebble Beach pro-am lowdown

Purse: €8.25 million (€1.45m to the winner)

Where: Monterey, California, USA

The courses: As is traditionally the case, the tournament uses three courses over the first three days – Pebble Beach Links (par 72 6,972 yards), Spyglass Hill (par 72 7,041 yards) and Monterey Peninsula’s Shore Course (par 71 6,957 yards) before those professionals and teams surviving the three round cut play the iconic Pebble Beach again on the final day.

The field: Matt Fitzpatrick is the only player from the world’s top-10 playing in a field that has a strong European feel to it, with Viktor Hovland, Séamus Power and Thomas Detry among the fancied players. Tom Hoge is the defending champion, while Jordan Spieth is something of a course specialist.

Quote-Unquote: “I’ve always hated all the cliches and everything that guys have used in press conferences, and as I’m looking back, I hate that one-shot-at-a-time thing, but that really is what it was coming down the stretch. When I finished, somebody mentioned the proximity to the hole and how close I had hit it on every single hole coming down the stretch, and I really hadn’t realised that at all until you’ve done, and to me that’s just how in the moment I was” – defending champion Tom Hoge recollecting how he outduelled Jordan Spieth down the stretch to win last year.

Irish in the field: Séamus Power returns stateside after his Hero Cup and Abu Dhabi appearances, with a week off to get over any time zone impacts. Power, currently fifth in the FedEx Cup standings, is grouped with Detry as the pair open their tournament at Spyglass Hill (6.31pm Irish time).

Betting: Jordan Spieth, Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland all top the market at 10-1 while defending champion Tom Hoge is available at 20s ... Dean Burmester has settled in nicely on the PGA Tour and might be worth a look this time at 50-1 while Thomas Detry is another on those odds.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports, live coverage 4.30pm.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times