Change of course for Kearney brings him to The Belfry en route to Europe
Two-time Irish PGA champion is one of five Irishmen in the field for British Masters
Niall Kearney putts on the ninth green during the final round of the Canary Islands Championship at Golf Costa Adeje in Tenerife on Sunday. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Where his original itinerary had been mapped out to follow the Challenge Tour, from South Africa to Sweden, Niall Kearney’s change of course may initially have been fortuitous in getting into the European Tour’s swing of tournaments in the Canary Islands, but the Dubliner has demonstrated the need to take opportunities with both hands by playing his way into bigger events.
So it is that the 33-year-old is in the field for this week’s €2.15 million Betfred British Masters at The Belfry in the English midlands with designs on strengthening his bid for a full European Tour card after rising to 99th in the updated Race to Dubai standings. The leading 115 players at season’s end will earn full exemptions for next season.
Kearney’s form – tied-21st in the Gran Canaria Open, tied-60th in the Tenerife Open and tied-fourth in the Canary Islands Championship – has also seen him make a big move up the world rankings, from 1,276th at the start of the year to a current position of 576th, a career best.
A two-time Irish PGA champion, Kearney is one of five Irishmen in the field at The Belfry where he is joined by Paul Dunne, a past champion, Jonathan Caldwell, Cormac Sharvin and Glasson-attached club professional Colm Moriarty.
The British Masters – with a Wednesday start and Saturday finish to help onward travel arrangements for those playing in next week’s US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, tournament host Danny Willett among them – will also kick-start a three-tournament mini-order of merit that will provide exemptions into next month’s US Open at Torrey Pines.
With the traditional US Open qualifying again not taking place due to Covid-19 restrictions, the USGA has implemented a mini-order of merit that will take in the British Masters, the Made in HimmerLand Open (in Denmark on May 27th-30th) and the Porsche European Open (in Germany on June 3rd-6th) after which the top 10 players not otherwise exempt will earn exemptions to Torrey Pines.
This is also a big week for former British Amateur champion James Sugrue, who is finally getting to make his professional debut after receiving a sponsor’s invitation to the Range Servant Challenge in Sweden, a tournament on the Challenge Tour.
There are two back-to-back tournaments in Sweden before the Challenge Tour makes a debut appearance at Portmarnock Links for the Irish Challenge on May 27th-30th. The Irish tournament will be the sixth event on the current Road to Mallorca series, with the top 20 players on the order of merit earning full European Tour cards for 2021/’22.