There are contradictions in the lessons that Brad Kennedy has learned during the past three years.
The two-time New Zealand Open champion returns to the Millbrook Resort near Queenstown this week having waited 1,096 days to defend the title he won in 2020.
The return of the NZ Open to the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia schedule has been eagerly anticipated by all players, but perhaps none more so than Kennedy. Conspicuous by his absence on his home tour in the first two months of 2023, Kennedy is suddenly thinking long-term. His inspiration?
None other than Kiwi Steven Alker.
The reigning Charles Schwab Cup champion on the PGA Tour Champions, Alker is providing 48-year-old Kennedy with the blueprint to play his best golf beyond 50.
It’s a far cry from his thoughts of retirement prior to the 2020 NZ Open but he now understands that while you can’t play forever, there is still much to achieve.
A four-time winner on the Champions Tour in 2022, Alker has accrued $US4,881,632 in 35 starts since turning 50. Consider that he won four times in 304 events for a total of $US1,477,017 in prizemoney on the Korn Ferry Tour, and it’s little wonder Kennedy wants to follow his lead.
“The New Zealand crowd is going to get right behind him,” Kennedy predicted of Alker’s homecoming.
“He’s been playing some unbelievable golf over the past year-and-a-half. All credit to him, it just shows that he’s found where he’s comfortable and he’s not afraid.
“He’s also been competitive over the past 10-20 years playing on the Korn Ferry Tour.”
On top of Alker’s accomplishments, advice from South African legend Ernie Els at The Open last year highlighted to Kennedy the opportunity at hand.
Exempt on the Japan Golf Tour where he has won three times, Kennedy will turn 50 in June next year. Rather than ease off, he has decided to push the boundaries of what’s possible.
“When I played with Ernie at the British Open, he said the fact that you’re still competitive on a world tour is a massive bonus for moving into that area,” said Kennedy of a potential transition into the senior ranks.
“It comes down to sacrifice and how much you want it. A lot of the guys who have had phenomenal careers may not want it as much as you. That can be a difference sometimes.
“It’s the same with young kids coming through. They have a lot of hunger so I have to be able to match that to want to do the same. I’m having to train and practise and work with that same amount of intensity to be competitive.
“It doesn’t matter what level it is, it’s the hunger and drive and the desire to perform that makes the big difference.”
Currently ranked 150th in the world, Kennedy has worked with renowned performance coach Dave Alred for the past few years.
He has spent the start of 2023 trying to increase the speed of his swing as he enters what he calls “chapter three” of his career.
“I feel I’m not done yet,” he added. “I need to continue to push the boundaries and push my game to see how far I can take it. Not leave anything out there if I was to finish up in a few years’ time.
“I’m trying to push my own boundaries to find out not only how far I can push it, but try and feel as much pressure as I can while I’m out there.
“It comes from inside. It’s the want to be the best you can be for as long as you can. Until they tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘That’s enough.’
“You only get one real chance and if COVID has taught us anything it’s that you’ve just got to go and have a crack.
“Really put yourself on an edge and see what you can and can’t do and prove things to yourself.”