Tom McKibbin quietly going about his business with first round 70 in Ras Al Khaimah

20-year-old Holywood man ignoring comparisons to McIlroy in quest to be his own player

Here in the desert, on a golf course that contorts like a snake by lagoons and through one of those upscale housing estates that are an integral part of such developments, close enough to fairways to be in players’ eyelines yet far enough away that only truly wayward shots bring the properties into trouble, Tom McKibbin is going about his business.

There is something about him that catches the eye. Not flashy, just how he goes about his business. Almost as if he is in his own world, his mind computing and calculating, executing the shot and moving on. From A to B, usually down the fairway and with few detours off the beaten track.

This Ras Al Khaimah Championship is McKibbin’s third straight week in the UAE but so much quieter than his first two experiences. The Abu Dhabi Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic were Rolex Series events whereas this is back to more regular life – for now – of going about his business in his rookie season on the DP World Tour and continuing that ever upward trending which has been part of his career since turning professional almost two years ago.

Now 20 and out of his teenage years, McKibbin is still one of the youngest players in any given tournament in any given week. But his quiet steps inside the ropes have created their own noise outside of it and his is a name that is mentioned more often than not amongst those seeking to tip the next big star.


McKibbin is used to it. From the same Holywood Golf Club that brought us Rory McIlroy, the comparisons were planted on his shoulders from a young age. McKibbin, though, is very much his own man and doing his own thing since turning professional when snubbed by the Walker Cup selectors and moving into the paid ranks quicker than planned.

But McIlroy remains an inspiration, that classic final round duel to get the better of Patrick Reed the latest moment to inspire. “Honestly it’s pretty inspiring, seeing what he did. Rory is such a good player, it is cool to watch. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with him a good few times and it is pretty cool for me.”

McKibbin’s rookie season started strongly with successive top-20s in the Jo’burg Open, the South African Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship and, whilst missed cuts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai provided some speed bumps on the journey, he has come here believing his game is good and strong. “I have been playing alright, just a few unfortunate breaks and a few bad shots but I’ve been playing alright so just move on with it,” he said.

This last of three straight weeks in the desert will be followed by onward travel to Singapore next week and after that Thailand before getting a break. “I’m looking forward to [this year], it should be good, seeing where my game can take me. It feels pretty good at the minute. The scoring element hasn’t been there, [in terms of] getting low scores but everything seems solid enough. Just keep the head down and keep trying to go forward.”

In his opening round – where South African Bryce Easton and Englishman Nathan Kimsey complete the threeball – McKibbin signed for a two-under-par 70 which, if not spectacular, provided a solid platform for moving on. “Overall, quite a decent day,” he said. It was too. And better ones to come.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times