Seven events, no finish worse than ninth, two top three finishes and a maiden collegiate win. Royal Dublin has an impressive stable and Max Kennedy is stepping out into the spotlight this year.
Hugh Foley and Richard Knightly often grab the headlines but Kennedy has been pulling up trees Stateside for Louisville this year, becoming the first Cardinal to win a collegiate event since Kinsale’s John Murphy in 2019-20.
The Clontarf native has climbed to a career-high 142nd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, making him Ireland’s no.3. After a rapid start to 2023 he has no intention of stopping as he hunts a Walker Cup berth for Great Britain and Ireland and a PGA Tour card in the future.
Always a young prospect, the 21-year-old has become accustomed to lingering around the top of leaderboards having not missed a cut since the Amateur Championship last June and picking up two wins at the Mallow Scratch Cup and the Aggie Invitational. Kennedy also has 13 top-10s in that timeframe.
The Royal Dubliner is pretty astute with fourteen clubs, but he has a 15th club, his mind, which he has worked hard on over the last twelve months and he is starting to reap the rewards.
“I put it down to working on my mind game. That’s the most important factor that I feel I have got better at is my mindset and not letting too much get to you on the golf course,” Kennedy explains.
“I try to think about everything else and focus on the next shot and how I can hit the best shot with the next shot. Tiger said it and he’s done alright in the game. I actually started working with a psychologist from Ulster, Lee-Ann Sharp and she has really helped me tremendously to get my mind in the right place because a lot of the game is having a good mindset. Working with her and working through problems has improved me immensely as a player.
“I try to stay very present on the golf course and not letting any distractions get in my way. They are the two most important things we have worked on together.”
Golf has always been Kennedy’s first love. He tried his hand at football, GAA and tennis as a child but golf has been the mainstay since he was in his early teens and it’s safe to say he has made the right choice.
“I started when I was around two or three with plastic balls and plastic clubs in Royal Dublin. My dad always tells me stories about when I was hitting drivers on the chipping green when I was three.
“My first memory is probably when I was six, in one of the US Kids events, hitting the ball and getting up and down from everywhere. That’s my earliest memory of playing golf.
“Golf was my main sport but I played them all growing up, then golf took over when I was 13 or 14 and I really focused on it and tried to get a lot better. I was never good at any of the other sports unfortunately, never fast or fit enough. So I picked the one with consistent walking!”
A former Leinster Boys champion, Kennedy continued to excel throughout his teenage years and Louisville soon came calling and it was a decision he just couldn’t turn down.
“I made the decision to go to Louisville when I was in fifth year, it was the only place I visited and I loved it straight away. There were a couple of Irish guys on the team at the time so that made the decision easier.
“This was the best college I had an offer from and it was really the only pick.
“The facilities are off the charts, we get spoiled with what we have over here. We have our golf course and then our own facility that has everything we want ProV’s on the range, chipping green, wedge area, different types of grasses, it’s amazing.”
Kennedy’s 2023 began in Ecuador at the South American Amateur Championship as part of a four-person strong Golf Ireland contingent alongside Liam Nolan, Kate Dwyer and Clodagh Coughlan.
He and Nolan found themselves neck and neck going down the stretch with the Galway man pipping him at the post. Of course, he was disappointed not to win, but his response has been sensational. Kennedy returned to Louisville for the spring schedule, hungry for titles and he hopes to carry his collegiate form into the Irish championships when he crosses the Atlantic at the end of May.
“That tournament was unbelievable, from start to finish we had an unbelievable week. Clodagh and Kate and me and Liam had a really good time. Liam obviously played really impressive golf under the gun and he deserved the win but it only pushed me on to come back to America with some momentum,” explains the boyhood Liverpool and Dublin fan.
“I really wanted to win but it was a nice thing that I didn’t because it pushed me to keep practicing, keep getting better and try and look for the win.
“That was my first time in Ecuador and I think the golf course was 2800m above sea level so the ball was going miles and Liam already hits it long so he was bombing it out there. To get used to that was very weird, I had never experienced the ball going so far. We both did a good job of controlling our ball.
“We as golfers play to win every single tournament. That’s not too much to ask for, I think I can win every tournament I play. I know that’s not going to happen but if you try to, your bad weeks will get a lot better if you have that sort of mindset. I would love to get a couple of wins in Ireland. I haven’t played as well as I would have liked in home events so I’m really keen to attack them.”
Kennedy was named on Golf Ireland’s High-Performance Panel for 2023 as he looks to become a mainstay on Irish teams. But the big team he wants to make is the Walker Cup this September. Not named in the provisional Great Britain and Ireland panel, he knows he will have to go on a winning run to force his way into the reckoning.
“You can’t not look at playing in the Walker Cup. That’s the main goal and that’s the main goal of all the GB&I guys is to play on the Walker Cup team in September. I would be lying if I didn’t say I really wanted to play on that team in St Andrews.
“Winning takes care of a lot, so the more you win, the better! A win is a win as they say, winning anywhere is huge. It doesn’t matter what competition you are in.”
Shane O’Grady counts Leona Maguire, Lauren Walsh and Olivia Costello in his impressive stable, but Kennedy is hoping the Black Bush coach can help steer him onto the path towards the PGA Tour.
With his senior year to come next year, the Louisville Junior hopes to force his way up the PGA Tour University rankings and he has been inspired further to achieve his goal by the exploits of Sam Bennett at the Masters this year.
“I’m coached by Shane O’Grady, I’ve been with him all my life, he’s a great coach and we go through a lot. I love working with Shane. I have a good balance with him, we know when to work on things and we also know when to let things go,” says Kennedy.
“Turning pro is the main goal and making the PGA Tour. That’s down the road, have a year and a bit in college, still have lots to achieve in the amateur game. There are avenues like the PGA Tour U card through college so I have a lot of work to do in the meantime but that’s definitely the goal.
“It’s basically a stepping stone to making the PGA Tour. Number one gets a PGA Tour card, 2-5 get full Korn Ferry Tour cards which is a really good tour and then 6-9 get partial Korn Ferry and 10-20 get Latin America or Canadian Tour status.
“It’s a great idea and I feel it helps a lot of college players make the transition from university to tour golf. I was meant to play with Sam Bennett before he pulled out last minute after the Masters. He’s a very impressive player and to see him do it on that stage was very impressive.
“Seeing him do that definitely pushes you on to do better, so perhaps something like that isn’t as far away as we all think.”
Max Kennedy is one to keep an eye on.
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