By Brian Keogh

Three years ago Pablo Martin was another young kid playing in the European Youths Championship at The Island in north Dublin.

But just last weekend he finished 30th in the toughest US Open test for years, outscoring a string of stars at mighty Oakmont in only his second start as a pro.

Of course, Martin made history in Portugal on April 1 when he took the Portuguese Open by a stroke to become the first amateur to win a European Tour event.

Yet that is only part of the story for this remarkable 21-year-old talent from Malaga.

Before he turned pro just two weeks ago, America's top college golfer was a snarling, bad-tempered, time-bomb.

The self-imposed pressure of his impending professional career had turned him into a Jeckyll and Hyde character.

And the Spanish ace fully understands what Holywood hope Rory McIlroy is going through as he marks time before turning professional later this summer.

Before he was beaten in the first round of this week's British Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham, McIlroy turned heads at Royal Dublin when he uncharacteristically smashed a club into his golf bag in frustration, leaving a gaping hole in the leather.

Turf was thumped, putters whacked and eyebrows raised.

A few days later he disappointed a veteran and much respected golf reporter during the Brabazon Trophy at the Forest of Arden with some similar gestures of frustration.

Yet Martin fully understands McIlroy's apparent torment and he has no doubt that the happy-go-lucky lad that has thrilled galleries all over the world over the past three years will soon be back with a bang.

Sweltering in the afternoon heat outside Oakmont's imposing clubhouse last Saturday, Martin confessed that he was once that boy.

It was, he said, a relief to officially start his pro career.

Pushing back his NIke cap, he said: "I had too many things in my head and I didn't feel good with those things. It was real easy for me to get frustrated.

"I wanted to do really good, but I was trying too hard. I wanted to show people I was worthy of turning pro, instead of just playing.

"I'd get really sensitive every week, with too many emotions and feelings. You can't do that on the golf course."

His performances ranged from winning the Estoril Open de Portugal to a horrific NCAA Regionals performance with Oklahoma where he blew up to 25 over par with rounds of 79, 78 and 84.

McIlroy is following a similar trend.

Since he made the cut in the Dubai Desert Classic in February, the Holywood hotshot's performances have also fluctuated from the brilliant to the ordinary.

While Martin was winning in Portugal, McIlroy was already on the way home after missing the cut by five shots.

But just a week earlier he had won the prestigious Grey Goose Cup at Sotogrande to lie second in the World Amateur Golf rankings.

He has since slipped to 27th in the global rankings and while his former amateur rival Oliver Fisher turned professional and already earned €123,000 in his rookie season, things have cooled off considerably for McIlroy.

Thwarted in his bid for a hat-trick of West of Ireland titles at Easter, he was pipped by Lloyd Saltman at the Lytham Trophy and frustrated to finish fifth behind the Scot at Royal Dublin.

A missed cut in the Brabazon, an erratic ninth place in the St Andrews Links Trophy and this week's Amateur Championship defeat at Lytham will have given Walker Cup skipper Colin Dalgleish cause for concern.

But Martin knows what McIlroy is going through and his advice is simple - Things are never as bad as you thing they are.

Martin said: "I wasn't hitting the ball really well or the way I wanted to and I was trying to deal with all this stuff at the same time.

"I wasn't behaving myself well on the course. It was one of those tough times and hopefully I got something out of it.

"I know Rory is waiting to turn professional and it really affects you because you are putting pressure on yourself to do well.

"I didn't allow myself to figure out what was going on with my swing and I didn't allow myself to be in the right frame of mind for the next shot.

"I would get frustrated really easily on the course. You don't care about the round and start hitting bad shots. That's where it really affects your game.

"But when you are a professional every shot counts. Once you get into that habit it is easy to keep doing that. The first thing you have to do it realise that you are doing that.

"And even then it doesn't mean that you are going to stop doing it. I think with experience you learn that. From what I have experienced, things are never as bad as you think."

Martin's victory in Portugal opened many doors. Not only is he exempt on the European Tour until the end of 2009, he has landed a lucrative contract with Nike and still has five exemptions on the PGA Tour.

Reflecting on a tumultuous period in his life, Europe's next big thing is only beginning to realise how far he has come.

But he has no doubt that McIlroy will soon be out there too, vying for his place in a future Ryder Cup side with the new generation of European talents.

He said: "I think the Americans are going to have a few problems in the next few Ryder Cups. They are great players and while I haven't played with Rory or Ollie Fisher, I have asked about them and heard nothing but good things about them.

"It is very exciting. It is exciting to see new European players that can be competitive here and have many years to play golf.

"Winning in Portugal changed everything. It changed my life completely because at this very moment I would be trying to get invites in some tournaments.

"I would be struggling and trying to make money and trying to get status somewhere. Instead, I have a clear mind and I don’t have to worry about anything other than playing golf and learning."

McIlroy still has the Walker Cup to come, but like Martin he is likely to land his share of lucrative sponsorship contracts and tournament exemptions when he turns professional on September 10.

Patience is the key and with just 12 weeks to go before D-Day, he needs to give himself a break.

(Harrington backs drugs testing)

PGA Tour boss Tim Finchem has agreed to set up a universal testing policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

And Ireland's Padraig Harrington is fully behind a move which will end speculation about drugs cheats in golf.

Speaking in Connecticut this week, Harrington said: "For us in Europe, it's not a big deal because we have a drug-testing policy, driven by the national golf federations outside of the US.

"We self-rule ourselves anyway in golf. If a guy is doing drugs, he's more likely to kick the ball in the rough.

"It's better for other athletes and the public to see our sport is above that. We should have testing. Honesty and integrity are the foundations of the game."

Finchem previously defended the PGA Tour's lack of a drug-testing programme, suggesting he had no evidence of drugs that would help or any players using performance-enhancing drugs.

But the LPGA Tour announced last year it would start drug testing in 2008 and just last month, European Tour supremo George O'Grady said they would also follow suit in January.

Now it seems that the PGA Tour is ready to come on board.

And most of the players surveyed at this week's Travelers Championship in Connecticut gave the news the thumbs up.

Ryder Cup star JJ Henry said: "It would be fine with me, but do you really need it in golf? Obviously golf is a sport we govern ourselves, unlike any other.

"I don't really think some of that enhancement stuff helps you anyway. In golf, you don't want to bulk up and do things."

But Ryder Cup skipper Paul Azinger rapped: "It's unnecessary. Do it if you want, but what are you going to find? Nothing.

"The thing is, any guys who are doing drugs out here aren't the best players on tour. But are you going to do alcohol testing, too? You're dealing with guys who call penalties on themselves."

(Moriarty on a roll)

Life on the mini tours is proving to be highly lucrative for Irish stars Colm Moriarty and Gareth Maybin.

Glasson ace Moriarty closed with a 66 to take second place in this week's Bovey Castle Championship on the PGA Europro Tour.

His cheque for £5000 sterling catapulted him to the top of the money list with earnings of £17,130 from just four starts - a tasty €25,394.

But Ballyclare man Maybin has been doing even better on the third tier Hooters Tour in the US.

The Ulsterman has picked up $52,673 so far this season and a massive $174,333 in the space of three years.

For the record, Maybin has played 47 tournaments and finished in the money in 39 of them.

He has two wins to his credit but is still a long way behind former Hooters players Chad Campbell and Zach Johnson.

Masters champion Johnson won four times in his stint on the tour with Texan Campbell the all-time record holder with 13 wins.