Niall Kearney’s season ends in ‘chaos’ of Joburg Open

Dubliner seemed all set to secure a full tour card until his playing opportunities dried up

Niall Kearney: ‘I didn’t anticipate all those starts were going to run out running into that last quarter of the season, it came to a shuddering halt really.’ Photograph:  Henk Seppen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Niall Kearney: ‘I didn’t anticipate all those starts were going to run out running into that last quarter of the season, it came to a shuddering halt really.’ Photograph: Henk Seppen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

 

Niall Kearney was among those forced to hastily change their plans when the latest Covid variant – named Omicron– became one of concern; that he was in the midst of doing his day job at the Joburg Open in South Africa put him central to the “chaos,” as he described it, that befell those trying to get flights home.

“You had to fend for yourself. Flights were difficult to get, they were literally disappearing in front of your eyes. Prices were going mad, everyone was in chaos mode,” recalled Kearney of being one of those who decided to withdraw from the season-opening DP World Tour event in Johannesburg (after opening with a solid 70).

“Nobody knew how serious the new variant was going to be. If that was a serious variant, then you have got to get out, book a flight, get out of the tournament and go.

“Nobody knew what was going on last Friday, we just realised something serious was going on because the UK came out Thursday night and started blocking flights and putting SA onto the red list. It was probably the fastest they have moved throughout the whole pandemic; and guys [were] thinking about family, about having to do two weeks quarantine there.”

As it happened, Kearney managed to secure a route out via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and onwards to Stockholm in Sweden before a final leg home to Dublin. He got a PCR test in a private clinic before leaving South Africa; went for another in Croke Park yesterday, and faces another – on the eight day mark – later this week.

One of four Irish players in the field to take the precaution of withdrawing – Paul Dunne, Cormac Sharvin and Jonny Caldwell also made the same decision – the swift exit was yet another chapter to add to a “frustrating” time for the Dubliner, who had seemed all set to secure a full tour card (including two top-10s) until his opportunities to play dried up late in the 2020/21 season.

“I didn’t anticipate all those starts were going to run out running into that last quarter of the season, it came to a shuddering halt really. I only got one start the last eight tournaments and I was well inside the line to get a full card at that stage, so that was disappointing. My form was good, stats were great, stroke average was great. I just didn’t get the starts.”

Rather than that full card for 2022, Kearney has category 18 status but which has an element of uncertainty about when he can get back out on tour again. It could be the back end of February. It could be the start of March.

“I’m at the every top of the category so I should play a reasonable enough schedule but it is hard to know as the category system is going to be unlike any other year so you can’t even compare, it’s hard to do your calculations.

“I’ve got a great indoor practice area here in Dublin, very much a lab controlled environment where I have a launch monitor and stuff like that. It’s great I can practice there for seven, eight hours a day; crunch the data and get the numbers, especially in this time of the year,” said Kearney, retaining the glass half-full approach.

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