McKibbin flattered by McIlroy comparisons as he prepares for pro debut in Tenerife
Teenager handed a sponsor’s invite for this week’s European Tour event
Northern Ireland’s Tom McKibbin plays a practice round ahead of the Tenerife Open at Golf Costa Adeje. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
Tom McKibbin is keeping the advice he has received from Rory McIlroy close to his chest, but admits he would love to emulate some of the four-time Major winner’s achievements.
McKibbin’s successful amateur career has inevitably led to comparisons with McIlroy, especially as the pair both hail from Holywood Golf Club in Co Down.
And after being “confused” at missing out on selection for the upcoming Walker Cup, McKibbin has followed in McIlroy’s footsteps by turning professional at the age of 18 and will make his debut in this week’s Tenerife Open.
“It’s probably a massive compliment being compared to Rory McIlroy,” McKibbin said. “I’m obviously doing something right.
“I’d love to be winning Majors and become world number one. That would be an awesome achievement. Those would be some long-term ambitions, to be the best.
“I’ve talked to Rory quite a bit, he’s given me his opinion and I’m probably just going to keep all that to myself. But he’s been great to me and I’m really thankful for that. It’s just awesome to be able to get to ask him questions and learn from him.
“I was always going to turn pro, but with me not making the Walker Cup team I decided to go a few weeks earlier. I was disappointed, not disappointed, a bit more confused to be totally honest.
“I was disappointed for a day. I don’t care now, it’s over with and I’m on to better things now.”
McKibbin has missed the cut in all six of his previous starts on the European Tour or Challenge Tour and admits he will need to sharpen up around the green to compete successfully in the paid ranks.
“I think the difference at this level of golf is they are all very good short-game players, putters and chippers. It’s a level higher,” the former world junior champion said.
“I wouldn’t see much difference off tees in distance or iron play, [but] their short games are absolutely insane. That’ll be the main difference, getting that sharpened up and getting the putts rolling in. That’ll be the big key.
“Making the cut this week would be lovely. I’m going to commit to every shot, play the course the way I think I should play it and hopefully on Sunday we’ll have had four good rounds.
“I sort of did everything [at amateur level], I have no regrets.
“I tried over the last few years to schedule my amateur events like I was a professional. Play a few weeks in a row, take a few off, play a few more. I’ve been preparing for this sort of moment for the last few years.”
Philip Reid’s Tenerife Open lowdown
Purse: €1.5 million (€230,000 to the winner)
The course: Golf Costa Adeje – 6,857 yards Par 71 – was designed by noted Spanish course architect Jose Gancedos who has transformed the old banana plantation into a lovely coastal course. However, with five Par 5s, and the expected kind weather, the potential is for a birdie blitz of low scoring. The course also features a number of terraced fairways, most dramatically on the fourth and the Par-5 18th holes.
The field: Frenchman Antoine Rozner, at 68th in the world rankings, is the top ranked player as he continues his build-up to a Major debut at next month’s US PGA Championship while Garrick Higgo and John Catlin, winners of the past two weeks on the European Tour, are in the same group for the opening two rounds. Maximilian Kieffer’s quest for a breakthrough career win continues after runner-up finishes in his last two starts, in Austria and Gran Canaria. Northern Ireland teenager Tom McKibbin makes his professional debut on a sponsor’s invitation.
Quirky fact: This marks the Tenerife Open’s return to the European Tour schedule for the first time since 1994, when Ryder Cup player David Gilford was the champion, although the Spanish Open was played at the venue in 2003 when Kenneth Ferrie won.
Irish in the field: Cormac Sharvin (9.56am), Paul Dunne (1.06pm), Tom McKibbin (1.17pm), Jonathan Caldwell (1.28pm), Niall Kearney (2.45pm).
Betting: Calum Hill’s upward trending has yet to reap a win but two top-10s in his last three outings means the Scotsman is worth a look at odds of 30-1 to break his duck . . . Michael Lorenzo-Vera looks a decent each-way shot at 50-1.
On TV: Live on Sky Sports from 2pm.