BY DARAGH SMALL
Standing over the five foot putt with the weight of history on his shoulders and the blistering Mexican heat ramping up the tension, the ball rolled by.
Paul McBride and his Eisenhower team-mates thought they had missed out on a huge opportunity to become the first Irish men’s team to win a medal at the World Amateur Team Championships in 2016.
One week earlier a Leona Maguire inspired women’s effort landed an unprecedented bronze in the Espirito Santo Trophy, but all seemed lost now for the men.
“I didn’t fully know the situation but I knew that we were tight with Austria,” said McBride.
“Jack just finished ahead of me so I didn’t really know what he had made up the last. I hit two really good shots into the green.
“But it was weird, I missed a short putt, I was the last group of the tournament and I thought, oh my God, I am just after costing us a medal here.
“I missed the birdie and Jack made double on the last, so we were sitting there and saying, God we have messed this up.”
It was another 20 minutes before the Irish team of McBride, Jack Hume and Stuart Grehan realised they had secured a bronze medal – they finished tied third alongside Austria.
That Eisenhower Trophy was glistening with future talent; Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland, and Bob MacIntyre were just some of the names that would be stars and Ryder Cup players of the future.
McBride, who later joined the professional ranks himself, already had plenty of experience competing against the biggest names on the amateur golf scene.
“Will Zalatoris was the same year as me in college. I lived with him, Cameron Young was the year below me, I lived with him a bit too,” said McBride.
“I was around them two lads day in day out. Will was probably one of the best amateurs in the world at the time but didn’t get picked for the American team at that World Amateur Team Championship but he was still a really good player.”
Six years before he won The Masters, Scheffler was picked to play in Mexico that year, alongside Brad Dalke and Maverick McNealy.
“I played with Scottie a lot in college,” said McBride.
“He was a really good player, he was one of these American guys that had all the shots, could hit it low, high, draw, fade. He was quite impressive in that sense, when he swings it he does it his own way but that was impressive.
“To get to the level he did, you can never predict that he was going to do that. He is probably the best ball striker in the world now.
“He was a really good ball striker in college but the difference between a really good ball striker and the best ball striker in the world is quite significant, but yeah he has done what he has done and it has been amazing.”
McBride was studying in Wake Forest when he got the call to join the team, and they arrived at the Iberostar Resort ready to build on the momentum provided by Maguire, Olivia Mehaffey and Annabel Wilson.
The Irish women only finished behind South Korea and Switzerland to collect their bronze medal in the Espirito Santo Trophy.
“You got there and the women’s event was just finishing. You go to their closing ceremony, our opening ceremony, and the girls had obviously done well,” said McBride.
“They won a bronze medal and that was probably a bit of an inspiration for us in a way. You see Ireland getting a bronze and you think it would be nice to do that. Especially because I know we have never won a medal in that before and we haven’t won one since.
“Being the only teams to have won a World Championship medal for Ireland in golf is a great achievement.”
Today another Irish trio will begin their odyssey, with Walker Cup stars Alex Maguire, Matt McClean and Liam Nolan in action at the National Course in Abu Dhabi Golf Club. While next week it is the turn of the women when Beth Coulter, Sara Byrne and Áine Donegan look for glory at the same venue.
“When something like this is being picked, when it is Eisenhower year or Walker Cup year there is always lots of chat about who will be on this team and that,” said McBride.
“It was great to play Eisenhower. I was probably the third choice pick on that team. I was playing in America but I came home, had a decent summer, lost in the semi-final of the British Am. Had a few other solid results and I got picked on the team.
“It was great, I have played European Team Championships for Ireland, I have played Home Internationals, but Eisenhower is up a level, I have played Walker Cup as well.
“I have played the four big representative events in amateur golf and it was great to get picked for Eisenhower, I loved representing Ireland.”
And as the amateur golf world turns its attentions to the UAE, McBride will have Asolo Golf Club in Italy and the Alps Tour Grand Final front and centre.
Fellow Irishman Jonathan Yates is a past winner of the event while Ronan Mullarney leads the way in the Alps Tour Order of Merit, heading into the season finale.
But the Island golfer and Malahide native wants a win of his own and then a strong showing in Q School before he can make concrete plans for next year.
“I’m 17th in the Order of Merit and I would need a win to finish inside the top ten,” said McBride.
“Mathematically I could finish inside the top five but I would need a lot to go my way. I would just be going out there trying to play as much as I can and see where it gets me.
“You just can’t really draw any plans up until your season is done and you can reassess and see what you can play and what Q School has given you, status wise.
“I’m not really thinking too much ahead in terms of golf for 2024, it could be playing Alps Tour next year again or it could be playing DP World Tour. You just can’t really draw anything up yet.
“Q School is gruelling stuff at times but you have to hopefully make yourself feel it’s just another golf tournament.”
Paul McBride in action during the Irish Challenge at The K Club last year. Picture: Thos Caffrey / Golffile.
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