Tom McKibbin, 13, ready for outing alongside professionals at NI Open
Thirteen-year-old golfing prodigy Tom McKibbin insists he will not be nervous when he tees up with seasoned pros at the Northern Ireland Open on Thursday.
McKibbin is playing in the European Challenge Tour event after an invite from the golf management company owned by One Direction star Niall Horan.
"The invite was a total surprise but I don't think I will be nervous," said World Under-12 champion McKibbin.
The County Antrim youngster says this week is all about "having fun".
"I'll be using it as a learning experience. I don't have any expectations," he said.
McKibbin's World Under-12 title triumph last year in the US saw him clinching a title which Rory McIlroy won as a nine-year-old.
The Newtownabbey youngster played alongside McIlroy at the Irish Open Pro-Am at the K Club in May and his outings at this week's tournament venue Galgorm Castle near Ballymena include shooting a one-under 71 in last year's Northern Ireland Open Pro-Am.
McKibbin will have his father Robin "on the bag" this week although McKibbin Snr insists he will adopting a "low-key approach".
"My job will be just to keep him in the right frame of mind," adds Robin.
"The only place the pressure will come from is himself. I'm not there to shout and roar at him. It will be a case of calming him down if something does go a bit wayward.
"He's been around a lot of these players so it shouldn't be overly daunting for him.
"We're just excited he got the invite and it's purely a learning experience for him. That's what the invite is based on. Nothing else and whatever score he shoots is whatever score he shoots."
McKibbin missing Irish U14 event to play in NI Open
Tom, who also won this Junior Honda Classic in Florida earlier this year, is missing the Irish Under-14 Championship at Lurgan on Friday in order to tee up at Galgorm.
"We knew this was such a huge opportunity here for him to learn from some of the best players in the world," continues Robin.
This week's field includes tournament ambassador and five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey, plus several other multiple winners from the continent's top golfing tier, such as England's Tom Lewis and Swedes Johan Edfors and Mikael Lundberg.
McKibbin's playing partners over the first two rounds will be Ireland's Walker Cup star from last year Gavin Moynihan, who has since turned pro, and another home player David Rawluk.
The youngster's father is optimistic that the prodigy will not be overawed by this week's surroundings.
"The World Championship events and all the tournaments he has played in the States are a scaled down version of this but they are set up very much like a pro event," adds Robin.
"The scoreboards and TV cameras are there. There is a lot going on at those events. So he has that experience that he can draw upon."
After playing nine holes at Galgorm on Monday, Tom continued his preparations for the tournament with a practice round alongside Hoey on Tuesday, with coach Johnny Foster also keeping a watching brief.
"The course is a lot longer than what I'm used to and the rough is also a lot deeper," added Tom.
"I can't get to five of the par-fours in two shots so my chipping and putting is going to need to be on but I'm still really looking forward to the week."
Never want to miss the latest golf news? You can now add this sport and all the other sports and teams you follow to your personalised My Sport home.