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‘I want to see where I am compared to the guys I watch on TV’ – Tom McKibbin set for Major debut at US Open

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The rising Holywood star (21) looks destined to follow in the footsteps of clubmate Rory McIlroy but while he’d love to play well at Pinehurst No 2, he expects a “brutal” US Open to tell him where he truly stands.

“I just want to see where my game is at by the end of the week compared to all these guys that are here that I’ve watched on TV for a while,” McKibbin said. “Obviously, I want to play quite well, but I just want to assess where everything is by the end of the week.”

Hoping this is the first of many Major starts, added: “I think after this week’s over, I will want to come back every year. So it probably puts a bit of fire in the belly to work hard and make sure I’m playing more of these tournaments.”

The Newtownabbey native was the first alternate for last year’s edition at the Los Angeles Country Club but he’s glad he opted not to travel.

“I’m a much, much better player now than I was a year ago,” said McKibbin, who is on track for eventual promotion to the PGA Tour after following last year’s maiden win in the European Open with four top tens on DP World Tour this year.

“I’m much more ready for this type of golf course. It’s pretty brutal. It’s definitely the biggest event I’ve ever played. There are more people here on a Monday than I’ve ever seen at a European Tour event.”

While his veteran caddie Dave McNeilly (72) is also seeing Pinehurst for the first time, McKibbin’s glad to have him by his side.

“He’s caddied for like 100 years and he’s not been here,” McKibbin joked. “But no, it’ll be good to have him out there as someone who’s been to countless Majors.

“Playing yesterday and today, I can the right way you’re meant to play the course and how it’s designed to be played very smartly. But obviously, once the gun goes off, it’s a lot different and there are a lot of different feelings.”

Given the upturned saucer-style greens, McKibbin knows precision iron play will be crucial this week.

So he spent his post-round practice time working on his pitching and bunker play with his Canada-based short game coach Gareth Raflewski.

“I wouldn’t say it’s linksy compared to back home, but the greens are something I’ve never really seen before,” he said. “I’ve played on slopey greens, but I’ve never played on greens that you can hit a pretty decent shot, and it can go 20, 30 yards off the side. So I think that’s something that I need to get my head around.

“Even if you play go out and play really well, you’re going to have a lot of chip shots and long bunker shots. So I was getting used to different lies and different scenarios, just to handle what is put to you.”

His first clear memory of the US Open is watching McIlroy succeed fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell as champion in 2011.

But after seeing Pinehurst for the first time, he knows he’s now in the big leagues and needs the complete game to compete.

“Everything,” he said when asked what aspect of the game he’ll need firing on all cylinders. “Probably approach play and making sure you’re hitting into the middle of the greens.

“If that’s not on, you’ve got to be 10 out of 10 around the greens.”

With ten PGA Tour cards on offer for the top 10 non-exempt players in the final Race to Dubai standings, 25th-ranked McKibbin could be US-bound in 2025 but he’s in no hurry to make the leap.

“I’d love to be out here,” he said. “But I’m not going to put much pressure on myself there.

“It’s very good that there are these 10 cards now but I’ll just see where I am coming down to the end of the year.”

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