In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Tom McKibbin discusses his professional debut, his early success and comparisons to Rory McIlroy, and his goals for the future.
I started golf just before my eighth birthday, and I just got really into it. I definitely didn’t think then that I’d be turning professional at 18, but I loved it from the start.
It was actually by chance that I even picked up a club: I was playing football with my friend out where we lived and his dad was a very keen golfer, and they were going to the driving range and they just invited me along. I was slow to start, maybe playing once a month for the first couple of months, but then I just began to play more and more and told my parents I wanted to take it more seriously.
My mum and dad were incredibly supportive from the start, even though they had no clue about golf or had never really played it. We weren’t a typical golfing family, but they just wanted me to enjoy it. I started getting coaching lessons about six months after I started playing because they thought it would help, and were always keen to take me anywhere so that I could compete. My dad is actually here this week with me, and it’s nice to have that bit of normality with me because I’m used to traveling with them wherever I go to play golf around the world.
That drive to compete, and their encouragement, was why I ended up playing so much out in America from a young age. I always took everything I did very seriously - whatever sport I played - and it was the same with golf. I wanted to compete, and when I was nine or ten there weren’t really age groups at that age I could play at home, it was always a lot older, so I didn’t have much of a chance. In America, everything was tailored to your age and category, and the courses were geared towards younger golfers, so I got better because I could actually compete.
I then had a bit of success out in America when I was 12, and that’s probably when the spotlight turned on me when I came home, doing interviews and being compared to Rory McIlroy. At the time I thought it was awesome, and I think now looking back it’s helped me because even if there are maybe a few more people watching you because of it, I’m now so used to it that it doesn’t affect me too much.
The Rory comparisons don’t daunt me really either. I’m definitely motivated to be as good as him one day, but if I see someone comparing me to him I just feel lucky, because it means I’ve played well enough so far for someone to be saying that. I’m happy to play along.
I’ve been lucky to have a relationship with Rory for quite a few years, and he’s been really good to me. I first met him about six years ago out in Dubai. We were both practicing at the same club, and he came over to introduce himself because I was a member of Holywood Golf Club like he had been growing up. Since then we’ve stayed in touch and we’ve played quite a lot of golf together, and I’ve walked inside the ropes with him at tournaments. It’s been really good to learn from him over the years and watch him play, and compare my game to his. He’s given me loads of advice over the years too. We talk about everything, and while it’s nothing that would help anyone else because it’s really tailored to me, it’s been really helpful – and most of it is less about golf and more about life!
I feel like I’ve been working towards this goal for a long time. I played a lot of junior golf until I was 16, and these last two years I really focused on amateur golf and playing in the few professional events I’ve also been able to play in. I even really tried to play a professional schedule but on the amateur circuit, playing a run of events in a row before having a break. That was going well until last year and COVID came about, because I ended up not playing anywhere between March and August. I ended up really struggling to keep a rhythm because the events were so staggered and you can only do so much practicing in your back garden.
I think the whole experience of last year slightly accelerated my decision to turn professional. It was always my goal eventually, but I had considered going to college, and I had also been targeting the Walker Cup team. When I found out I didn’t get into the team I was disappointed, but I also wanted to compete in more events than I had been, so I just decided that I was going to professional a little earlier than I had planned.
I’m now really excited about getting going and playing this week as a professional, although I’m glad I’ve already had that experience of playing in this type of event. My first European Tour event was back in 2018 at the Shot Clock Masters as an amateur when I was 15, and it was a week where I learnt so much. I remember the first round I played pretty good and I think I shot one under and I was quite high on the leaderboard, and it made me realise that if I play well, I can actually compete at this level. But then I missed the cut after shooting five or six over the next day, and I realised that what you need to be able to do out here is turn those really bad days into one over rounds or level pars. I was quite young then, and honestly I think that experience was so helpful because it taught me what I need to work on – and it also got those nerves out of the way of playing in tournaments with professional golfers.
👦 15 years old— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) June 7, 2018
👀 Plays at Holywood Golf Club (Rory's home club)
👏 Shoots 71 on European Tour debut
Keep an eye on the name of Tom McKibbin golf fans... pic.twitter.com/D7zrGZ19vn
I’ve now been practicing for a while, and I’ve been seeing nice signs, but you can only practice so much. I’m excited to get out there this week, and this year, and I hope I can just keep playing as well as I can. I’ve got some pretty big goals for my long term career – I want to be competing in all the big events and getting to the top of the World Rankings some day – but right now I’m just trying to focus on playing well and in enjoy competing in my first events as a pro!