Niall Kearney is determined to stick to his process over the weekend after returning a 10-birdie seven-under par 64 on Friday to move to within four shots of the lead at the Canary Islands Championship.
The Royal Dublin professional has been in a rich vein of form of late but that hasn’t surprised him after putting in a typically thorough off-season shift to ensure his game was ready for 2021.
“The form is OK but I’ve put in a huge amount of work over lockdowns so I’m not totally surprised by it,” said Kearney. “Myself and Eddie [Doyle – Coach] have put a lot of work into it and I’ve also been hammering away at the studio in Baldoyle so it’s good to see that sort of stuff coming to a bit of fruition.”
Back on the Costa Adeja Course where Kearney broke 70 three times last week in a tie for 60th at the Tenerife Open, the 33-year old has taken plenty of notes into take-two this week in Spain where he fired five birdies either side of a three bogey lull midway through his second round.
“It’s a little bit easier because you learn from all your errors last week in terms of where you missed it and the best places to be, the pace of the greens and stuff like that,” Kearney explained.
“I was flying early doors, I was hitting it in tight and it was all quite easy. I was five-under through 7. Bogeyed 8 – it’s a par-5 that’s been brought back to a par-4 so it’s playing very difficult the last couple of weeks.
“Nine then is a two-tier green, pin on the back and I tried so hard to get up on the back tier but I overdid it and wasn’t in great shape there but I made a good par on 10 and then a really silly bogey on 11. That’s a real birdie chance [he eagled it day one] so I was starting to stall around the turn and knew I needed to get myself together because there’s plenty of chances on the back-nine more so than the front.”
Kearney managed to pull himself together and then some, picking up birdies at five of his last seven holes to catapult to a share of 11th at 10-under par. Just four back of Adri Arnaus who fired a second successive 64 to set the bar at 14-under, was Kearney feeling the pressure of playing himself into contention on Europe’s main tour?
“I did the last couple of weeks – I was fighting hard the last couple of weeks – but this week I’m actually a bit more relaxed,” Kearney said. “I’ve got a good process going, I have a good game-plan for the course and I’m just trying to let it happen rather than trying to force it.”
Having a familiar face in dad, Joe, on the bag is certainly helping, though it’s been a stretch of events that the pair hadn’t bargained for when they were clipping balls together last month in Spain.
“We were in Spain playing a bit of golf three weeks ago and then suddenly the entry list for these events fell down and so we said ‘c’mon, we’ll come going’,” Kearney added.
“It worked out great and it’s looking promising for next week as well. We’re eighth reserve now for British Masters and I think they’re holding four spots this week for top-10 so we’re probably realistically fourth reserve now so that would be a nice one.”
Given Kearney’s Category 22 status meant he was largely destined for Challenge Tour starts this year, the Dubliner has been delighted with how his schedule has panned out and is keen to make hay while the sun’s shining on his Main Tour dream.
“I still have that headache of mixing between both Tours but it’s working out rather nicely so far,” Kearney said. “There’ll definitely be times where I’ll have to play Challenge Tour as well but there seems to be good main tour opportunities until the end of June and obviously Irish Open is in July and then after that it’s getting into bigger events so I probably wouldn’t be getting into as many.
“It’s hard to turn down these bigger events. I’d love to play main tour until Irish Open time and then play a bit of Challenge Tour but things are changing a lot. In years gone by, my category wouldn’t have got near these tournaments so nobody really knows how it’s going to play out.”
It could all change this week of course, were victory to grace Kearney’s door, but far from letting the big picture get in the way of things, he wasn’t about to let the mind wander with so much golf yet to play.
“You can’t really think of that,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and stick to my process and see what happens. Guys are getting hot out there. Somebody could shoot 15-under over the weekend so you can’t go chasing that, you just have to do your own thing and see what happens.”
Whatever happens, Kearney is beginning to make bank, and having long paid his dues on the satellite tours of the world, he’s more than earned it.
“It’s been a long time – it’s nice,” he said. “That’s why it’s hard to turn down these main tour starts because there’s such a massive difference in prize money. It [the money] does help. I’ve got the studio back at home with a couple of bays and GC Quads so that was expensive to set up but this is where it’s at for me. The studio is grand for practicing and stuff but playing is where the burning desire remains.”
At the halfway stage, Kearney heads the Irish challenge with Paul Dunne unable to replicate his opening day fireworks after returning an even par round of 71 to remain at six-under. Cormac Sharvin missed the cut by a single stroke at three-under with Jonathan Caldwell (-1) and Tom McKibbin (+2) also missing out.
- Full scoring HERE