He had just won his second New Zealand Open title after a gruelling month on the Australasian PGA Tour. No one would begrudge Brad Kennedy the chance to head straight back to the Gold Coast and celebrate his first title in two years with his wife and daughters.
To the strength and character of Brad Kennedy the player and the person, he spent the next four days in Aotearoa, helping local professionals improve their games and impart his extensive knowledge onto golfing juniors in both Queenstown and Auckland.
Brad Kennedy won the 101st edition of the NZ Open by two strokes over fellow Australian Lucas Herbert in a finish that came down to the final hole at the Millbrook Resort near Queenstown.
After missing a birdie opportunity on the 18th hole, Kennedy had to wait and watch as Herbert attempted to birdie the last hole and force a playoff.
In the end, Herbert’s tee shot to the par-three 18th overshot the green and ended up in the water-sealing the win for Kennedy.
The Game Plan
Before Kennedy flew out to Queenstown for the NZ Open he had arranged some training sessions for locals through the NZ PGA.
“Yeah, it was pre-planned,” Kennedy explained to NZ Golf Magazine. “I’d spoken to Dominic[Sainsbury], whenever I first heard the news that the NZPGA Championship was not going to be on this year. I said to Dominic I’m going to be in New Zealand for the week of the open. Did you want to do anything else in relation to combining the PGA and my training aid?
“I did a putting demonstration with the NZPGA pros in the area then I did a big one after that for some kids around North Shore Golf Club. Then yesterday I was out fishing just offshore at Omaha.”
Kennedy, 45, grew up and still lives on Queensland’s Gold Coast and has a passion for fishing just as much as he does for golf.
“Fishing. I love fishing,” Kennedy laughed. “On the Gold Coast, it’s just perfect. It’s great downtime, there is nothing better than sitting out on the water, even if you can’t catch fish. Just to let your thoughts come to you.”
Kennedy is a seasoned professional having won a handful of tournaments across his 25-year career and you can feel the experience when you speak with him. It might be his quiet, calm, direct manner, but you get the feeling he thinks deeply about every answer and he takes that onto the golf course for any tournament he plays.
That mental toughness was on show across the four days of the NZ Open especially in the last round where he refused to look at a scoreboard for the entire day.
“I didn’t look at the leaderboard, all day, because I knew it was going to take a pretty special score, even though I was only two shots behind. It was a real heavy leaderboard of players behind and the course can give up a finish where someone could shoot 10/11 under and come from behind, and I knew it was going to take a pretty special score.
“So I worked out a game plan to what it was going to take to do that. One of those things was that I had to be very disciplined in terms of staying in control of what I could control and not being distracted by anything outside. And obviously, looking at a leaderboard is one of those distractions.
“It’s very, very hard to do. It does take a lot of effort to really focus on doing something like that. It’s definitely worked for me in the past.”
It was his focus on the game that he needed to get back after a tumultuous previous six months following the launch of his putting product, Project One Putt, in August 2019. Kennedy spent a lot of time with his wife formulating the product and getting it ready for market before he was back on the Japan Tour completing the year with runner-up in the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup in early December.
“I had a really solid back end to the season last year, and lost in a playoff at the JT Cup to Ryo Ishikawa, which is one of the guys who is using my product, so that was a bittersweet moment.
“That was a great finish to the year I finished 18th on the money list, which was, it would’ve been nice to finish with a win.”
The Australasian Summer
Kennedy headed home and played in the Australian PGA on the Gold Coast just before Christmas where he finished tied for 19th before having six weeks off.
“I didn’t touch a club, had five days worth of practice before the Vic Open and I showed promising signs first up. But a lot of mistakes. Just simple mistakes, whether it be slightly technical or mental or just not quite the right environment for high-performance play.”
Kennedy missed the cut at the Vic Open so headed back to Queensland for two tournaments before the NZ Open, it was there that he feels things went astray.
“I guess I’m still processing what I’ve been through over the last three weeks,” Kennedy explained.
Kennedy equalled the course record of 61 on the opening day of the Queensland PGA and led by four shots going into the weekend and one shot heading into the final day. In the final round Kennedy picked up shots at the third, fifth and 12th holes to be 15-under and four shots clear of eventual winner Michael Sim and the chasing pack with three holes to play before disaster struck.
The Queenslander dropped shots at both 16 and 17 to fall to 13-under and stood on the 18th tee feeling like he still only needed a par to at least tie for the lead. Kennedy hit his tee shot into the left rough and then three-putted the 72nd hole to miss the playoff entirely.
“I was in control of the event the whole week I just let certain circumstances just, not that I was wanting to they just happened. It was sort of a bit out of my character to do that, I always see myself as quite good mentally in terms of getting things done and doing the right thing. So that was a really tough moment.
“And it was hard to really get back up the next week, to be honest, I didn’t want to play at all. It was a gutting, experience. A very low moment in my career, just for the fact that I didn’t finish what I needed to do.”
He did actually compete the next week in the Queensland Open where he shot 65 and 68 in the first two rounds to be one shot from the lead heading into day three which blew out with a 75. He stormed home on the Sunday with a 67 to finish only two shots from the winner on 13-under.
“I was getting better and better at things that I could control and played nicely again there. Saturday was the day that hurt me. In terms of winning the event, I mean, I came good on the Sunday to finish third but I think it was just the culmination.”
The trip back to New Zealand provided Kennedy with a circuit breaker and a return to a place where he has had good memories, the most notable his win in the tournament after a playoff with fellow Australian Craig Parry at the open in 2011 at Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch.
“I love coming to New Zealand they really look after us as players, just getting in that good atmosphere, catching up with some friends too was great.
“Winning anything a second time is pretty special. Its the first time I’ve won a tournament twice.”
When Kennedy won his first NZ Open it was purely a professional event with no pro-am and it basically helped to kickstart his career.
“It was a smaller event, it was just a pro event so they were totally, totally different. I guess I was different then too,” Kennedy laughed.
“It was my second or third win as a professional as I didn’t win for ten years. Even though I was playing in Asia, playing in Europe, I actually hadn’t won for the first ten years of my career. Now I’ve won a dozen-plus titles in the space of the next ten years.
For Kennedy, the addition of the amateurs playing alongside the professionals at the NZ Open is a way of taking the pressure off such a big event. Kennedy and his partner Jun Tsusaka finished tied for 5th in the pro-am competition.
“For me personally, I think it’s a great distraction in terms of the pressure as well. I met Jun Tsusaka for the first time on Tuesday night and we hit it off straight away.
“When you’re out on the golf course and you feel like there is a little bit of pressure, just going over to them, helping them read a putt or hitting a certain shot it’s a really good distraction and I think it is what you make it.
“I think that without the amateurs playing, the tournament would be a lot different, especially in terms of prize money. And it gives exclusivity that in New Zealand, the only pro-am format for a national open in the world.
“And I also think it’s probably one of the only places in the world where it would work. To bring that sort of international dynamics that it does with amateurs coming from all over the world to play, virtually shows what the team’s done to get it to that level. It’s pretty amazing.”
The Run to Retirement?
The victory at the start of March and his red hot form across the summer would suggest to any golfing follower that at 45, Brad Kennedy has many more years ahead of him in the game. On the other hand, he’s been at it for more than 20 years and for him the time to scale things back and concentrate on his family and other ventures may not be too far away.
“I worked it out last year that I’ve actually been away from my home for eight years in total, 25 weeks a year, times 25 years, that’s a lot of time that you’re actually not there with my two daughters getting older. they’ve been getting into things that they’re passionate about. I want to be back and try and experience that with them rather than being away all the time.
“I think I’ll have to look hard at have I achieved what I want to achieve and what desire is still burning there? Have I done everything I wanted to do?”
He is now ranked just outside the top 100 in the world, a spot he has never achieved, his next best was 118 in 2012.
“It’s quite interesting when I think that the best I could ever be before was 118 in the world, so to be 45 and be the best part of my career its quite humbling but at the same time, it’s like, oh, really? What does it account for?
“Is it going to get me anything else if I can get inside the top hundred, maybe a couple of extra majors? Or is that my priority? Do I really want to go to battle? Am I ready for that sort of thing and playing in that environment all the time? So there are things that I’ll have to weigh up.
“I think just putting that time clock on my career probably will make sure that I do everything possible to get as much out of it as I can.”
The Passion is Back
Brad Kennedy will now have six weeks off until the Japan Tour is expected to start up again, but with the Coronavirus closing events and tours every day, Kennedy is not sure exactly when his next professional round of golf will be.
He also has his putting aid product, project one putt, that he can focus his energies on with more than 50 professionals using the aid worldwide.
“It’s actually come at a good time in my career. It’s given me a chance to feel like I’m giving something back to a game which has given me such a career and seeing kids out there at the NZ Open trying it and having fun with it.
“It tests your mental strength, tests your resilience, tests your discipline. It gives you the emotions that you’re going to feel out of a golf course so you know how to develop good habits mentally.
“If things aren’t going well then you have those two tools to draw from. If you do get in a situation with that then you can still execute properly.
“It was pretty cool to see kids when they get on it and start to use it. Their eyes light up and when kids are challenged they tend to rise to a different level, they get excited about it.
“If I can help one kid or a member or someone just help themselves become as good a player as they possibly can be then that’s a pretty cool feeling. It might be where a bit more intensity and discipline has started to spark another chapter, and especially with my putting aid, it gives me another passion for the game.
“Whereas in the past, for me, it’s all just been about business whereas now it’s sort of the passion. The passion side of the game’s come back.”