Dermot McElroy: Ballymena golfer to make professional debut at Northern Ireland Open

Dermot McElroy
Dermot McElroy finished in a share of ninth place at the Northern Ireland Open three years ago

Ballymena man Dermot McElroy will tee up in this week's Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle as a professional.

Last year's West of Ireland champion McElroy, 23, has been mulling over a move to the paid ranks for some time.

McElroy ends his amateur career without a North of Ireland title after his semi-finals defeat earlier this month.

However, much of McElroy's best amateur golf was played in stroke play events and he shared ninth spot at the Northern Ireland Open three years ago.

McElroy will be joined at Galgorm by several of his former Irish amateur international team-mates.

Cormac Sharvin, Gary Hurley and Gavin Moynihan are all playing most of their golf on the European Challenge Tour this season after turning pro following their heroics at last year's Walker Cup.

Another of Ireland's Walker Cup contingent from last year, Jack Hume, has also been invited to this week's tournament, although he remains an amateur.

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Niall Horan has invited Tom McKibbin to play in the Northern Ireland Open

With Open Championship star from last year, Paul Dunne also in action at Royal Lytham last September, McElroy narrowly missed out on becoming a sixth Irish member of the Great Britain & Ireland side.

Defending champion, Frenchman Clement Sordet, is among 12 winners on this year's Challenge Tour who will be in action in the event which starts on Thursday while 2013 winner Dutchman Daan Huizing is also making a return visit to the Ballymena venue.

Current Race to Oman leader, England's Jordan L Smith and fifth-placed Frenchman Damien Perrier are also in the Galgorm.

German duo Bernd Ritthammer and Alexander Knappe have filed entries while other Challenge Tour winners from this year in the provisional players list include Portugal's Jose-Felipe Lima, England's James Heath plus Sweden's Sebastian Soderberg, who has dropped to 11th in the order of merit after winning the season opener in Kenya.

As ever, the Galgorm Castle event will parade a large contingent of European Tour winners.

Tournament ambassador Michael Hoey has clinched five victories on the main tour while twice Russian Open champion and 2014 Lyoness Open champion Mikael Lundberg is another multiple European Tour winner in the entries.

Hoey, 37, has made no secret of his determination to make the cut this week after missing the weekend action since beginning his relationship with the event in 2013.

"After finishing my second round last year, I was certain I had done enough to make the weekend but this wind then died on the Friday afternoon and with still perfect greens for the later starters, I ended up finishing 61st with only the top 60 making it," Hoey told BBC Radio Ulster's Summer Club.

Tom Lewis in action in the Joburg Open earlier this year
Tom Lewis won the Portugal Masters in 2011

Lewis among NI Open entries

Other entries of note include 2011 Portugal Masters champion, England's Tom Lewis while three-time European Tour winner Johan Edfors is set to make a return visit after playing at Galgorm Castle two years ago.

The list of main tour winners in the provisional field also includes experienced Irish duo Damien McGrane and Simon Thornton.

At the other end of the age scale, 13-year-old talent Tom McKibbin has been invited to compete in his first professional tournament while One Direction star Niall Horan will be among a number of celebrities playing in the pre-tournament pro-am.

Horan's sports management company were central in securing McKibbin's participation in the tournament proper while other stars playing in the pro-am include Northern Ireland football great Pat Jennings and Ulster and Ireland rugby hero Stephen Ferris.

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