Niall Kearney has set his sights on joining an illustrious list of names to successfully defend the LowFuelcard.ie Irish PGA Championship this week at Dundalk.
The 27-year-old could follow in the footsteps of Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Christy O'Connor by collecting the trophy on Sunday in Blackrock.
“It's an event I have had pencilled into the schedule from early on and I'm looking forward to it,” said the Dubliner who is still coming back down to earth after holing the winning putt for GB&I in that historic PGA Cup win over the US on American soil.
“I like Dundalk GC. I have played it quite a few times over the years but I have to admit, it has been a while – could even be back when I was playing boys interpros.
“It's an ideal venue for me because I can stay at home, sleep in my own bed, all that sort of thing.”
Kearney won the Irish PGA Championhip in impressive style last year, grabbing a birdie at the last to edge out Michael McGeady at Adare Manor Golf Club. It capped what was a hugely successful season on the Irish circuit for Niall which included five victories and the Order of Merit title.
“Winning the title last year provided me with a real springboard,” added Niall. “I got into the PGA Play-offs in Turkey and won that which gave me another confidence boost.
“That led to other opportunities like playing in the PGA Cup and the BMW PGA Championship but I wasn't thinking of any of those at the time. I just wanted to win the championship because of the names that were on the trophy, the history and kudos associated with the event.
“This year is no different. I don't feature on the Order of Merit, I haven't been active enough this year but I still want to defend the Championhip.”
The Royal Dublin man will have his work cut out this week, with a strong field lined up against him including the 2012 winner David Higgins (Waterville) and the 2011 champion, Simon Thornton (Team Ireland).
Higgins has been a model of consistency this season and rightly leads the order of merit but with over 5000 points on offer to the winner this week, his nearest rivals, Eamonn Brady (Clontarf), Colm Moriarty (Drive Golf Performance) and Neil O'Briain (Old Conna GC) could mount a serious challenge to his place at the summit.
Ladies European Tour regular, Rebecca Codd, will make her debut in the Irish PGA Championhip having come through qualifying on September 21. She will be joined in the field by Victoria Bradshaw, Marian O'Riordan (Ballykisteen) and Hazel Kavanagh (Carr Golf Services).
Kearney gets his campaign up and running fron the first tee at 12.50pm alongside Higgins and the vastly experienced Damian Mooney (Ballyliffin).
In-form Jimmy Bolger (Kilkenny) a two-time winner in recent weeks, will tee off alongside Thornton and Brady at 12.40pm.
Spectators are welcome to attend – entry is free.
PGA in Ireland fact sheet
Irish PGA Championship field number
Prize fund and order of merit points
- €3,500.00 — 5,250.00
- €2,500.00 — 3,750.00
- €2,000.00 — 3,000.00
- €1,300.00 — 1,950.00
PGA in Ireland Order of Merit (as of Sept 28)
- David Higgins Waterville Golf Links 17,683.17 pts
- Eamonn Brady Clontarf Golf Club 16,494.34 pts
- Colm Moriarty Drive Golf Performance Ltd 16,421.40 pts
- Neil O'Briain Old Conna Golf Club 15,871.12 pts
- Damian Mooney Ballyliffin 12,887.51 pts
- Brendan McGovern Headfort Golf Club 11,385.81 pts
- Noel Murray Massereene Golf Club 10,970.34 pts
- Cian McNamara Monkstown Golf Club 10,514.77 pts
- Dara Lernihan Elm Park Golf Club 10,209.84 pts
- Jimmy Bolger Kilkenny GC 9,403.42 pts
Irish Open places
In 2015 six places were made available at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation. The number for 2016 has yet to be decided. The places are made available to the leading eligible players on the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit
Irish PGA Championship – Historical significance
The Irish PGA Championship has been staged since 1907 and has been won by golfing luminaries like Fred Daly and Harry Bradshaw. Christy O'Connor won the championship 10 times while Padraig Harrington has lifted the trophy on six occasions.
PGA Play-offs Defending Champion – Niall Kearney
The leading three players – not already exempt – from the PGA in Ireland Order of Merit will be eligible to compete. The leading players from the 2015 PGA Play-Offs will be exempt into various European Tour and Challenge Tour events within the UK and Ireland in 2016. The exact number of exempt places at each tournament will be published as soon as they are available and are dependent on the tournaments being confirmed for 2016 by the European Tour. Opportunities will also be dependent on the detail set out in the European Tour General Member's Regulations which may not be available until after the PGA Play-Offs.
As a result of winning the Play-offs Niall earned a place on the GB&I PGA Cup team going on to hole the winning putt in a historic victory over the US at CordeValle.