McIlroy to say hello to pro ranks

By Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy will say ‘Hello' to the world of professional golf at a news conference at The Belfry today.

His soon-to-be manager, Andrew ‘Chubby' Chandler has lined up an impressive array of sponsors for arguably the biggest talent to emerge from Ireland since Darren Clarke approached him in a £1,500 cashmere overcoat in 1989, looking for advice on his impending move into the professional game.

Chandler has since made Clarke, as well as Lee Westwood, Paul McGinley and Graeme McDowell, multi-millionaires.

But McIlroy needs little in the line of advice from his Irish stablemates and to a man they have told the youngster to change nothing as he prepares to play for cash for the first time in this week's Quinn Direct British Masters.

Far from getting a rude awakening, McGinley, Clarke and McDowell believe that McIlroy already has the game to make it on the tour.

And while his amateur swansong in the Walker Cup didn't quite go to plan, he is oozing confidence after cruising through the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School at The Oxfordshire last week.

"The kid is full of confidence," said McGinley, who was 25 when he turned professional. "Let him play on that confidence for a while and see where he is going. Then he can stop and think, I need to change this or that or keep going.

"I hate to hear people saying he is going to get a rude awakening in the pro game because you don't want to knock the kid's confidence. Confidence is such an important thing so let him ride this confidence."

McDowell had just a handful of professional tournaments under his belt when he turned professional in June 2002.

By comparison, McIlroy has played 12 professional tournaments since he teed it up in the British Masters as a raw 15-year-old in 2005, shooting rounds of 82 and 81 to miss the cut.

He's been playing full time golf for the past two years, travelling the globe from Dubai and Australia in that time and making six cuts.

"The first piece of advice I would offer Rory is that he doesn't have to do anything different," McDowell said. "Just because he will be out here now on the tour doesn't mean he has to change his game, change his equipment or change anything.

"He's shown already in the small number of pro events he's competed in that he's got the game.

"He's five to 10 steps ahead of where I was when I turned pro, so he's got a huge advantage from that point of view."

A share of 52nd place in this year's Dubai Desert Classic does not do justice to McIlroy's performance at The Emirates Club and after missing the cut when he played in Portugal and Spain on sponsor's invitations earlier this year, he dispelled any doubts about his class by winning the Silver Medal in the Open at Carnoustie.

"Rory will have a lot more experience of what it's like out here than I had when I turned pro," added McDowell, who won on his fourth start on the main tour. "I had played one professional event before I turned pro and Rory has played quite a few already.

"That's a huge boost for anyone, being out here and seeing what the environment is like because he's played with these guys many times before.

"These days there is not a huge jump from amateur golf. Guys are just a little more efficient getting the ball around. They are smarter and more experienced. Those are the major differences.

McGinley won his second event, the UAP Under 25 Championship but believes that McIlroy has been a professional in everything but name for some time now.

"The top amateurs nowadays are very different amateurs to when me, Darren or Padraig started out," McGinley said in Cologne last week. "When we played, the thoughts of going away and playing different events in Australia, South Africa and Spain like Rory has done, was not even a factor. That was not the amateur game.

"But it is the game now for the top amateurs. They get these trips to Dubai. They go to Malaysia. The furthest we went was the Home Internationals or the European Team Championships in Madrid.

"The top amateurs now are playing a professional schedule so it is not the same as it was 15 years ago. He seems to have the game and the last thing anybody should be doing is trying to knock his confidence. Confidence is so important. Let him go with it and see how far it takes him and then sit back and reassess where he is after playing several events.

"He has been playing a professional schedule for the last two years. He has been to Dubai, Australia, Malaysia, America, playing these events. So the step up is not that massive."

McIlroy has been taken under Darren Clarke's wing in recent years and the pair will play a practice round at The Belfry today.

But the big Ulsterman has no great fears for his protege, advising him to stick with what he knows before searching for something new.

"He has enough people around him to keep his feet firmly planted in the ground," Clarke said. "He will be fine. And he will done fine.

"The biggest difference he will notice is that the short game in the professional ranks is like chalk and cheese compared with the amateur game. That is the biggest difference. That is the whole difference."