It’s a tall order. Connor Syme needs to finish runner-up in just his second start as a professional to secure a European Tour card close to home this weekend. Dreams have come true in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship before, though, as the Fifer was reminded after getting a practice round with Rory McIlroy under way on the Old Course at St Andrews yesterday.
“Yeah, he mentioned it going down the first,” said Syme, referring to the fact that McIlroy, in exactly the same position a decade ago at the start of his professional career, finished third in this event to secure his Tour spot for the following season and, of course, has never looked back. “It was obviously a big stepping stone for him.”
McIlroy’s footsteps will be hard to follow but Syme, who got his new career off to an encouraging start by tying for 12th in the Portugal Masters a fortnight ago, certainly impressed the Northern Irishman in their first outing together. It had been set up by Niall Horan, the One Direction band member who is a close friend of McIlroy and is behind Modest! Golf, the management company Syme joined on leaving the amateur ranks on the back of climbing into the world’s top 10 this year.
“He has a nice game, solid swing and does everything the right way. I don’t see any real weakness,” said McIlroy of the 22-year-old from Drumoig. “I was more impressed with him as a person as he seems like he’s got a really good head on his shoulders. He seems very mature. He finished 12th in his first event as a pro. Just by that, you can tell he’s not really fazed by that sort of environment. Hopefully he has another good week this week and he can be well on his way to getting his Tour card.”
Horan, having flown in from Brazil to support Syme, as well as two other players in the company’s stable, Englishman Jack Singh Brar and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, walked round with the Scot and McIlroy before also sitting in on his press conference. “Niall has been helping me out a lot, but I was picking more Rory’s brains today as you can’t buy that experience,” said Syme, who is part of a 10-strong Scottish contingent that includes two former winners – Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher – as well as another new recruit to the pro ranks, Liam Johnston.
Syme added: “It’s obviously great to hear Rory talking highly about my game – it means a lot coming from him.
“Obviously his game is a little different than mine with how far I can hit the ball. But everyone has their different strengths and you just have to stick to your own game.
“All I’m thinking about at the moment is that first shot at Carnoustie tomorrow. If it becomes a good week, then brilliant. I’m looking forward to the challenge for sure.”