Niall Kearney might feel a couple more starts here or there could’ve helped him capture a full European Tour card for the first time in his career but he insists his 2021 campaign was one to celebrate after improving his status on the Main Tour for 2022.
The Royal Dublin professional went into the season expecting to split his time across the Challenge Tour and Main circuit but with Covid travel restrictions hampering players getting to events, Kearney’s Category 22 membership ensured access to tournaments it previously wouldn’t, and the 33-year old was delighted to take advantage.
“It started very strong,” Kearney said of his season, one that saw him bank €166.364 from 15 starts and finish just 12 places outside the top-121 who earned full cards for next year
“I was getting a lot of starts and maybe I got a bit complacent because I felt as though it was going to keep going but it just didn’t materialise that way. Still, it’s certainly a celebration.
“A lot of my stats were very, very strong this year, stroke average (9th) and stuff like that. Although I missed out on a full card, I’m still going to have a really good status going into next year, should get plenty of starts and hopefully keep the run of form going.”
It was certainly a breakthrough year for Kearney who moves up to Category 18 on Tour. After years of struggles across satellite tours since turning pro in ’09, it was a case of perseverance rewarded for a man who never stopped believing.
And although success this year must be sweet, there has to be a hint of frustration there too given a bit more game-time could’ve made the difference between a full card and not. David Drysdale was the man who lay claim to the last card at 121 in the Race to Dubai standings but the Scot enjoyed twice as many starts as Kearney despite the Dubliner trying his best to nab an invite towards the end of the season.
“It’s difficult,” Kearney said having sat out the Portugal Masters and the Aviv Dubai Championship in recent weeks.
“I was in Category 22 this year which is quite a low category so I knew coming into the back end of the season with guys playing to keep their cards that I was always going to need a couple of invites. I just found it really difficult to get those invites across the line.
“Whether I was playing the right game or not it’s hard to know. I was sending emails and all that sort of stuff. I felt as though I had a real genuine case. I’ve been trying to get a main tour card for 10-12 years now and I had a great opportunity this year and it just didn’t happen.”
“It’s a difficult one. The Tour seem to have so many guys to choose from, especially for the last two or three tournaments so what they did was, they actually didn’t bother giving out any invites at all, they gave it back to the field – first reserve got in, second reserve etc – which was fair in my opinion.
“It just so happens that with seven or eight tournaments to go, I couldn’t quite get one.”
Thankfully, Kearney’s pleasure in his performance this season outweighs any sense of lingering disappointment. This year he turned a profitable one in a career of few, banking enough to lay a foundation on which to build towards next season, while accepting that given the expensive nature of professional golf, more help will be needed if he’s to reach his goal of full status to the Promised Land of the soon to be DP World Tour.
“I turned pro back in ’09 after Walker Cup and you could say I haven’t had a really lucrative year since,” Kearney said of the significance of this year.
“I’ve been grinding the whole time, whether it’s on Challenge Tour, Asian Tour or EuroPro, I’ve played all over, so this year was obviously great to get those main tour starts, get some decent cheques and give myself a little bit of comfort going into next season.
“I’m still searching for sponsorship and guys to come on board going into next season. It’s massively expensive from a travel point of view. Taking on a caddie possibly next year. Staying in decent hotels. Coaching. There’s an awful lot that goes into it.
“Obviously I had massive help from family and external support which has been crucial. If we’re being honest, lots of guys have to stop playing simply because they run out of money. That’s the unfortunate reality of it.
“I was blessed to have the opportunity to keep going, but also I loved doing what I was doing, even though I wasn’t making great waves. I just felt as though my game was getting better each year and that there was a chance I could break through, and it’s starting to happen now which is great.”
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