Neil O’Briain will take time out from his PGA training to renew rivalries with Rory McIlroy at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this week.
The Old Conna Golf Club assistant is one of six PGA pros - Brendan McGovern, Damien Mooney, John Kelly, Michael McDermott and Cian McNamara - to qualify for the Royal County Down showpiece via the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit.
As an amateur O’Briain regularly competed with, and against, McIlroy and the opportunity to again tee up against the World No.1 plus a host of other stars in the €2.5m event is one he is relishing.
“I’ve played Challenge Tour and PGA Europro Tour so this is a step up and with such a strong field it’s great to be part of,” he said.
“The amount of top names coming over is reminiscent of the 70s and 80s when the likes of Seve regularly played.
“There is a huge amount of hype around it so you have got to go in with confidence in yourself and try and make sure you are there for the weekend.”
The man largely responsible for the hype is McIlroy and O’Briain long ago realised he was destined for the top.
“Rory has got to insane heights in the game – but we all expected that when he was growing up because he was always the golden boy,” he added.
“I played both with and against him. He was always a nice kid, always sound. His dad Gerry used to caddy for him and it’s great to see someone that has potential and talent, who was very driven and hardworking go on to become the best player of our generation. It’s great to say I played with him.”
Like many O’Briain has a few McIlroy anecdotes including one from the Mullingar Scratch Cup – one of Ireland’s most famous amateur events.
“We were both playing the par-five 16th and both of our drives found the same bunker. Rory was up first and hits a great four iron to 15-20 feet. There was a big crowd because Rory had hit the big time on the amateur scene and he got a great smattering of applause.
“I then hit a three iron to three or four feet though with not quite as much applause. Anyway years later I was talking to a friend who mentioned that the members now called that bunker ‘Rory’s bunker’ after his shot. I said ‘you’re joking, I hit a much better shot!!”
His other Rory moment came at Dundalk when O’Briain, representing Leinster, was one-up at the 18th. O’Briain hit his approach stone dead while the teenage McIlroy found the greenside bunker.
“Rory has no shot, he’s in a deep bunker, got three feet of green to work with, then it’s fast and running away. If he gets it within 15 feet it’s a great shot.
“My friend comes up to me and says ‘it looks like you are going to go two up.’
“In match play you always work on the worst case scenario and sure enough Rory somehow manages to hole the bunker shot for a half.
“Everyone has a Rory moment and that’s when I realised this boy was pretty good.”
Both McIlroy and O'Briain will have their work cut out this week at Royal County Down which is rated one of the best courses in the world.
"There are a lot of blind tee shots where you have to pick out targets," added O’Briain. “They have stones as a guide and if you hit it over those you are fine. It’s a course where you need to know where you can attack the greens from and where not because it is so penal.”
Having competed on the satellite tours, O'Briain is enjoying his PGA training where he is equipping himself in the disciplines of coaching, sports science, equipment and golf business.
But with his second year of PGA exams just finished, O'Briain is for now determined to revel in his Irish Open experience.