Niall Kearney is no stranger to having to bide his time for starts having played his entire professional career fighting for full status on the now DP World Tour.
Schedule uncertainty is part and parcel of conditional membership on any tour and although Kearney improved his status on Europe’s main circuit after his best season in the pro ranks to date in 2021, the Royal Dublin star has had to be extra patient over winter as he awaits his opportunities.
Kearney finally had a scorecard back in his pocket last week at Fancourt for the Challenge Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-am and although he narrowly missed the 54-hole cut, Kearney came away encouraged as he looks to build further at today’s starting Cape Town Open.
“It’s great to be back out. I’m using these tournaments as a sort of sharpening tool for some bigger events coming up so it’s perfect,” Kearney says.
“Winter was so long. It obviously wasn’t that easy to travel in terms of going somewhere warmer to practice with restrictions and testing so I just stayed at home all winter which was different.
“I got a lot of practice in though, and in fairness, the weather was actually pretty good at home, a decent winter so there was no issues playing golf. It was just trying to find that competitive golf which was difficult.”
Having wintered in warm-weather destinations from Thailand to the Middle East and southern Europe, instead Kearney turned to what he describes as “the only show in town” for stay-at-home Irish pros looking to keep their tools sharp at this time of year, the TaylorMade Winter Series at Portmarnock Links.
“It’s probably the only show in town at home in terms of getting a card in hand and feeling a little bit of pressure if you can replicate it at all,” Kearney says.
“It’s such a great course and such a strong course that it always tells you where you’re at which is what every decent player at home is looking for over the winter. The field is very strong. The course is always dry, it’s off the turf when other places are off mats, and it’s super to have access to it.”
As helpful and all as Portmarnock Links proved, it could never quite prepare Kearney for last week’s first outing on the firm and fast surrounds of Fancourt Estate. Up against Sunshine Tour players coming towards the end of their season, Kearney struggled to keep pace with the scoring, though it’s nothing a bit more game-time won’t fix.
“This is obviously the back end of their season but I was just rusty last week. I was two-under, two-over, two-under, everything was just a little bit rusty,” he said.
“I was making mistakes and I actually made a triple-bogey where you’d think ‘Jesus, if this was five or six tournaments in you’d never do something so stupid’.
“So it was first week back out, trying to eliminate silly mistakes. Missing on the right side. Course management. All those things that come back to you the more you play.”
Indeed, far from throwing out the copybook off the back of a narrow missed cut, Kearney is excited to put his typically thorough off-season work through its paces, not least having made the trip to the Raflewski Performance Academy at PGA National Slieve Russell and got a run of greens on the Capto Putting System that the double zero chasers on the roulette table could only dream.
“Myself and Eddie [Doyle, coach] just tried to push everything on a bit more through repetition,” Kearney said. “You put the reps in and we’re trying to make technique that bit more repeatable, even though it was very, very repeatable last year, but we tried not to stand still.
“I went up to Slieve Russell to see Gordan Smyth at the Raflewski Performance Academy to do a bit of work on my putting. It’s a very good facility, really cool to have it not too far from Dublin.
“It’s obviously indoor which is great for winter. They’ve the Capto system there which gives great feedback but Gordon is such a huge selling point of the whole thing because he’s a putting coach. You’re not just going up to a really good putting facility but you have Gordon there to guide you through the Capto system as well – it’s a complete package.
“Gordon actually said after the session, everything’s perfect! Sometimes that can be the best session. Capto was pretty much green light all over so what I was doing was perfect.
“We did a session last year and I had to tidy up a couple of things and I went back up and Capto basically said everything is in line so I just need to go out and trust it.
“It’s obviously different being in the lab compared to out on the course but it’s encouraging regardless.”
Kearney will hope to give his trusty putting stroke plenty of chances around Royal Cape this week, with a second course, Rondebosch also being played on the rotation.
“Royal Cape’s nice,” he says. “It’s an old fashioned course and we have two courses in play this week with Rondebosch – split between the two.
“They’re both similar, old fashioned and tree-lined but it’s very windy around Cape Town which will make for a good test and mean you might need a bit of luck with the draw. I’m definitely feeling a bit more comfortable this week though so hopefully I can go out and give it a good run.”
From here, Kearney drives to Durban next week for the Jonsson Workwear Open before a hopeful first Main tour start of the season at the Magical Kenya Open. Having also earned the backing of Irish e-commerce company Wayflyer over winter, on top of banking €166,364 on the fairway last season, Kearney has never had such a solid foundation from which to build going into a new campaign and although his schedule remains unclear in the weeks ahead, you can be sure Kearney will be ready to take his chances when they come.
“It’s still a bit of a guessing game,” he says. “The Tour seems to be scrambling a bit for April. I think they’re saying there’ll be three events guaranteed, they’re just not sure when and where they’ll be.
“Qatar is back on the schedule for March, a $2m event, I’m not sure if I’ll get in but Kenya is a similar level event and I’m flying into that already so hopefully get Kenya, Qatar, and two of those three in April and once May comes and things start to get back towards Europe, that’ll be the main bulk of my season from May to November. Hopefully exciting times ahead.”
- Live Cape Town scoring HERE
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