Cork golfers Robbie Walsh and Fionn Hickey are heading to the USA

This week Walsh headed out to Tennessee for a whistle-stop tour of the college and the golf facilities
Cork golfers Robbie Walsh and Fionn Hickey are heading to the USA

Fionn Hickey (Muskerry) will move to US College Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles in January. Picture: Niall O'Shea

ROBBIE WALSH is the latest Cork golfer to commit to the US college system.

Last week he signed his national letter of intent with the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, and he is set to start with the NCAA Division 1 college in 2022. 

This week Walsh headed out to Tennessee for a whistle-stop tour of the college and the golf facilities, something that his aim of college golf one step closer. 

“I always wanted to go on a scholarship to the US but I started thinking seriously about it 18 months ago,” explained Walsh. “I have family there and I’ve been there on numerous occasions and I love the country. 

"Originally when it became a strong possibility that I would be going I spoke at length with Aaron O'Callaghan. He gave some great insights regarding programmes, weather, divisions and the rest. I also spoke with two friends of mine John Murphy and Mark Healy who are over in America. 

"I play regularly with them at home and they have hugely improved since they went over there.”

Walsh who played his junior golf in Kinsale was one of the second generation of Kinsale golfers to make headlines at provincial and national level. Following the successes of Cathal Butler, John Murphy and Gary Ward, it was clear to see that the clubs junior programme was working. 

In 2018, along with his younger brother James, he was part of the Kinsale Jimmy Bruen team that won the Munster and All-Ireland finals of the Jimmy Bruen Shield.  In 2019 he won the Connacht Boys along with gaining selection for the Irish Boys panel.

Walsh looks comfortable on the golf course and it’s no wonder considering he’s had a club in his hand for the best part of 13 or 14 years. 

“My dad played a lot of golf when he was younger, he played all the provincial tournaments and was selected on the Munster team. 

He got me into the game, we started playing pitch and putt when I was four or five and he didn't take me to the golf course until I was very tidy around the greens. 

Robbie Walsh signing up for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.
Robbie Walsh signing up for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.

"I played all sports growing up including soccer for Lakewood and hurling and football for Ballincollig but I eventually decided to focus on golf. 

"Over the past few years, Ian Stafford, Michael Collins and Neil Manchip have all helped with my progression. I have also been working with Peter O'Keeffe for my strength and conditioning.”

While Walsh had several options available to him, after a couple of calls with the head coach he settled on Tennessee. 

“I spoke with several colleges but UTC stood out for me. Paul Conroy from Rosslare is on the mens team and he could not speak highly enough about the college. 

"The weather was also an attraction, having the chance to play and practice in perfect weather conditions all year round is not something that is possible over here. 

"UTC also have excellent facilities on campus (everything that you would ever want). To have the opportunity to play Division 1 golf and play against the top players in America is massive, most players on the PGA tour have gone through the college system. 

"I had numerous calls with Coach Mark Guhne and we got on very well. He seemed very optimistic about the team and has a great knowledge of the game having coached a US Amateur champion and tour players so I am looking forward to playing under him.”

LA HEAT

The move to the US will happen a little bit sooner for Muskerry’s Fionn Hickey, he’s set to start with Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles in January in time for their spring programme. 

Like Robbie, Fionn was looking at options for a US college place and his decision to join the LMU Lions came after a few months of research into the US college system.

“I started looking actively about a year ago but I guess it was always a dream of mine to play and study in America once it was clear that it could be an option,” said Hickey. 

“I didn’t know a whole lot about the programmes apart from some internet research when I first started looking. 

"To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming with the amount of colleges and facilities to look at, but NCAA Division 1 would always have been the goal so that narrowed it down significantly.”

Hickey has been playing golf since he was 11, and he’s one of the Muskerry squad who won two Fred Daly Munster titles in 2017 and 2019. 

It’s not a bad return and a great reflection on the junior golf approach in Muskerry. 

“I started playing a bit of pitch and putt in Glanmire on Sunday mornings and my father who is a member of Muskerry got me a juvenile membership when I was 11 and I just fell in the love with the game.” 

Like many others, Fionn first benefitted from the impressive juvenile programme and then from the Munster Golf coaching structures as his game developed. 

There is a very strong juvenile club in Muskerry and the older adult members were very accommodating towards younger players. 

"I have a good group of friends there particularly the Fred Daly lads because of the success we have had over the last four years. 

"We often played two rounds a day during the Summer, putting competitions etc. Peter Fenlon and Fred Twomey looked after us very well, and not forgetting Martin Lehane with all his words of wisdom.”

It’s an exciting time for several golfers with a number of options available. Sara Byrne and Mairead Marting are current in the US along with Mark Healy. 

Mel Deasy is another Cork golfer expected to make the move to an NCAA golf programme, the Douglas member is hoping to confirm details this week and he also looks to move in time for the start of the 2022 academic year.

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