'A Bright Future' - Rory McIlroy Praises Fellow Holywood Golfer Tom McKibbin

The world number three spoke of his pride for the 20-year-old after watching McKibbin set up his maiden DP World Tour victory

Rory McIlroy and Tom McKibbin
Holywood stars Rory McIlroy and Tom McKibbin during practice at the Dubai Desert Classic in January
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy may have put Holywood, Northern Ireland, on the map, but he’s not their latest smash hit – that’ll be Tom McKibbin.

The 20-year-old showed nerves of steel to win the European Open in Hamburg at the weekend, his first DP World Tour title – and McIlroy was quick to offer his congratulations.

“Very well,” replied the Ulsterman, when asked how well he knew the young phenom. “I watched every shot this morning. I was really happy for him.

“For 20 years old he showed so much composure. And, yeah, look, he’s been, we’ve all known from back home the potential that he has, but I think to break through and win for the first time at 20 years old is, there’s a bright future ahead of him.”

McIlroy was speaking after a frustrating day at Muirfield Village. Tied for the lead through 54 holes, he carded seven bogeys to fall out of contention, and he finished a distant four shots back of eventual champion, Viktor Hovland.

However, he was never going to miss the opportunity to congratulate a fellow Holywood Golf Club graduate, and he offered glowing praise for the golfer who he has known for many years.

“So proud of him, McIlroy added. “I've known Tom since he was 10 years old. And to see his progression and see where he is today and get that first win in Europe is, was really cool to see.”

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Tour rookie, McKibbin, who started the week ranked 335th in the world, closed out in style with a birdie at the par-5 18th, and he was understandably thrilled to get over the line.

“It's pretty amazing, yes, it's been a good day," McKibbin told Sky Sports. “I was in a good group with Jordan [Smith] and David [Law] so it was pretty nice. It was just nice to go out there and put a really, really nice round together.

“I've learnt that I am good enough to win. I always thought I was but to prove it today was pretty special. I guess I have learnt a lot from failures and missing cuts by a shot and just missing things ever so slightly.

“So to take all of those things that I have learnt and to put them into play tonight was really nice. It will probably not sink in until tomorrow. To have my dad here, he comes most weeks, is pretty special. To win in front of him is pretty amazing.” 

McKibbin also spoke of the role McIlroy has played so far in his career. Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, he said: “I probably wouldn't be here right now if he hadn't helped me along the way.

“He's been amazing with me. I've been very fortunate to spend a lot of time with him and be in his presence.”

And McKibbin revealed that McIlroy had sent him a message of congratulations prior to beginning his own final round at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio. 

It would have been quite the double had they both won, but that may still happen at some point, especially with McKibbin on the up and with his DP World Tour playing rights for 2024 guaranteed.

“He said 'well done', and that he was very proud of me, and that he was watching out there on the TV so that was pretty cool,“ he added.

“I've got to play with him a good few times, pick his brain a bit and ask him things. He's been definitely very helpful to me.“

Michael Weston
Contributing editor

Michael has been with Golf Monthly since 2008. As a multimedia journalist, he has also worked for The Football Association, where he created content to support the men's European Championships, The FA Cup, London 2012, and FA Women's Super League. As content editor at Foremost Golf, Michael worked closely with golf's biggest equipment manufacturers, and has developed an in-depth knowledge of this side of the industry. He's now a regular contributor, covering instruction, equipment and feature content. Michael has interviewed many of the game's biggest stars, including six world number ones, and has attended and reported on many Major Championships and Ryder Cups. He's a member of Formby Golf Club.