In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Niall Kearney talks about a fundamental love of the game, developing his own swing studio, and the impact his coach has made over the past two years.
I’m excited to get going in Ireland after putting myself in that leading position after two rounds last week, because it’s another opportunity that could be pivotal to my season. It’s always great to play in your home Open, and it’s been difficult to get a spot in years gone by, but it’s also lucky for me that it’s culminating at a time where I’ve had a couple of good finishes and seen a lot of positive signs. I don’t want to put additional pressure on myself, but it’s a big tournament in terms of my campaign this year too because of the points it has, so it’s a balance between that and being aware of the importance of taking advantage of your opportunities.
Last week was hugely positive, because I feel like it’s been a hard slog for ten or 12 years to get myself to that point. When I turned pro after the Walker Cup in 2009 one of the goals would have been to get into one of the final groups of a European Tour event. I’m 33 now, and I’ve been playing a long time. I’ve been on the Challenge Tour, the Asian Tour and the EuroPro Tour for over a decade, and while I’ve had some status on and off I’ve never had a full European Tour card. After last week, and other results this year, I feel like I have a great opportunity to make those ten or 12 years pay, and hopefully all of that experience that I’ve gained stands me in good stead to achieve it.
It’s been a very positive season for me so far, and I’ve had a lot of starts at tournaments that I didn’t necessarily expect to get in to. I made the cut but didn’t get my card in the Final Stage of Qualifying School in 2019, so on a normal year my category (22) wouldn’t have got into many of these events, but because of restrictions and travel, the Entry Lists seem to be falling in my favour.
I didn’t expect to get into Gran Canaria when I started my season in Spain, and I was actually playing golf on a trip with my dad in Spain just before it. When I saw the entry list start to go down, we thought I might have a chance so we decided to head from there. And I ended up on the road for five weeks and had some pretty good results.
I think my experience has helped with those results. Last week I didn’t necessarily play as well over the weekend, but I was able to hang around – which might have been a different story in years gone by. It was an interesting dynamic because I’m fighting to get a card, so while I want to win I couldn’t necessarily afford to finish 40th either, so it was really about making the right decisions.
I’ve been a professional for a very long time so it’s hard to look back and pinpoint moments where I feel like I really made that progress, but I think working with my coach Eddie Doyle over the last two years has been huge. He’s been a breath of fresh air. I played quite a bit of golf with him before working with him, and he’s just a really good guy who knows the game inside out and loves it like I do. He’s been hard on me which is good because I like people who are very direct, and he’s not afraid to tell me when things aren’t good enough. If I hit a collection of shots that are too widespread he’ll tell me I need to tighten that up, and puts a bit more pressure on me to be that bit better. I think sometimes when you’re a player that has a profile in a small country sometimes guys aren’t as direct as they should be, but Eddie was almost the opposite to that, and it gave me an underlying confidence in the road he was going to bring me down, because he had it all planned.
The key to that has been getting back to basics and working a lot on technical things, and honing that ability to get around the golf course; to have control of the ball and keep myself in play when I don’t feel a hundred percent. And that’s something I did well last week.
For most of that time my dad has caddying for me, and it’s something he’s been doing on and off for the last few years. He’s 61 and got a business that he runs so it’s definitely not full time for him, but he loves doing it, and I love him doing it because he’s great company and we get on more like brothers. I’m also lucky that he keeps himself fit and is fit enough to do it, and it’s great to have him with me because it just makes it that much easier in the bubble situation we have right now.
I’m very close to my family, and I actually had my brother come out and caddie for me in Denmark and Germany. We get on great and he’s a professional rugby player so he has a good understanding of what it’s like to be in professional sport. He joined Connacht straight from his school days, then went to Leinster and spent the last two years in Italy, so we’ve had a similar experience in that we’ve both been sort of nomads in our careers. Neither of us have been settled as such – although about three years ago we did buy house at exactly the same time and they are about five steps from each other, which is great.
I think caddying gave him a good insight into the mental side of the sport I play too, because I double bogeyed the last to miss the cut by one, which was really disappointing. But in general, there’s probably more of a crossover than you think in the mental side of the sports we play. You’ve got to have a lot of discipline to put into training, then there’s the aspect of handling nerves before you have a match or a round, and how you deal with those internal feelings afterwards. He’s very driven by the desire to play for Ireland, and he does a lot of research on the mental side of things between reading and meeting people, so it’s something we talk about a lot.
My career has obviously been a little bit frustrating at times, but I wouldn’t say that it’s been overly difficult for me. I think my fundamental love of playing and competing has kept me going, because I think life is too difficult on the secondary Tours to continue do it if you aren’t enjoying it. And for me, even if I miss the cut somewhere or aren’t playing well and say to myself I’m going to put the clubs away for a few days, I’d be home for a day and I’d be back practicing and loving it.
That love of the game is why I built a swing studio last year for my own game, and then I ended up teaching people too. I was looking for a fairly high spec indoor practice facility for myself, because the weather in Ireland isn’t always that conducive to standing outside for hours. That was the goal when it started, so it wasn’t really the plan to start giving lessons. But then because there was very little golf happening in terms of a playing schedule last year, guys started coming down and loving it, and I started giving lessons too and found I really enjoyed it.
It helped me keep in touch with golfing people last year, but then I found I enjoyed being able to share my knowledge and ideas about how they could get better. I think it comes down to that fundamental love of golf for me: It doesn’t matter if it’s me playing and practicing or if I’m helping someone else with their game, I enjoy it all. And at its core, golf has universal issues that are there whether you’re a 15 handicapper or a professional, because everyone is looking for answers on how to play better, so it’s been a great experience chatting to the golfing public and helping people with that. It definitely doesn’t feel like work, put it that way.
I’ve now got two bays, so now even if I’m there and practicing guys can come down and use bay number two, or use it if I’m maybe doing a lesson. It’s a great space: It’s a really nice environment to go and practice, there’s GC Quads in both bays to get into the numbers, and I also have a workshop so that guys can come down and I can check the loft and lie of their clubs and stuff and do gapping sessions with them. My playing schedule has been pretty busy the last couple of months, but any time I’m home I love getting guys down, doing lessons.
But I’m still very focused on my own game, and it’s hard not to be motivated when you see guys you know well succeed. Going back to amateur days I grew up playing with Rory and Shane Lowry, who have gone on to do great things and pushed on into a totally different stratosphere, but then I’ve also played a lot of golf on these smaller Tours with Jonny Caldwell, who got his first win a couple of weeks ago. Me and Jonny can relate to each other a lot because we’ve seen how difficult the journey has been to keep things going, but it’s harder not to look at these guys and go, well why can’t I do that? I spent a lot of time with Shane today talking about old times, and all of it, it all just feeds that motivating energy to push on with my own game. And I’m hopeful that I can bring that to the Irish Open this week.