Two weeks ago, ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit winner Brad Kennedy was informed that he was exempt into this week’s US Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Here Kennedy’s coach and Sanctuary Cove PGA Professional Michael Jones explains what has happened since and their hopes and expectations for a strong showing. With Tony Webeck.
It was a big change when we found out. Brad went from playing the Japan Golf Tour with a start at The Open Championship to being exempt into the US Open and another likely start at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational. He might even play a couple of Korn Ferry Tour events while he is in the US. It snowballed rather quickly and we’ve had a fair few conversations about preparation and how to stay fresh.
I spoke to Brad on Tuesday morning and Torrey Pines is set up pretty challenging, as you’d expect. Fairways that are 22 yards wide, rough that is two-foot thick and where the ball drops to the bottom. It’s one of the tougher courses that Brad has played but we’re putting a game-plan together for how best to tackle it.
At any big tournament the big danger is running your race before it even begins. Preservation of mental energy is crucial so that you can get to the first tee on Thursday with some energy on board. These kinds of tournaments are the highest level we have in golf so if all your wits are not about you it is hard work. The key is stay healthy and mentally fresh while he works on his game.
Around a course such as Torrey Pines the short game is a very important component along with hitting the fairway. Finding the fairway is going to be the No.1 priority because Brad said that if you’re in the rough, you might as well just grab a wedge and hack it out.
Coming from Japan to the US Open, obviously the golf course is a lot different. There are a lot of people around and the golf course is set-up unbelievably well. The greens are immaculate and the fairways look like they’ve got vacuum cleaners on them. He said it’s pretty easy to work out that this is one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world.
The traditional style of golf course in Japan is not overly long but the fairways are so tight you can barely fit a ball down them. At the Japan Open they set the course up next to impossible which by all reports is very similar to a US Open set-up. Brad likes to play a hard golf course. He excels mentally when he has to make sure his ball’s going exactly where he needs it to go. He doesn’t like when bombers can hit it 350 left or right and still have a swing.
Sherwood Country Club where they played the ZOZO Championship last year was a 7,700-yard golf course and not that different to Torrey Pines. He said in a text that they’re not going to hit you off the back chocks and put you in the hardest pins in rounds one and two but by round three or four all bets are off. If they shoot 6 or 7-under, that might be a winning score. I know the USGA won’t want to see too many 65s around there so it’s going to be a real grind and mental test. Brad’s very good mentally in his strategy and his decision-making is excellent.
Shishido Hills Country Club is a 7,700 yard golf course where they play the Japan Tour Championship and Brad’s played really well there including finishing runner-up in 2015. He plays really good par golf, gets the odd birdie here and there and is quite competitive. That’s going to be the mindset for this week and why the mental energy is going to be one of the most important factors.
On Monday afternoon he spent time on the putting green working on his speed control and touch around the greens. He says some of the pin positions that they will get them in will certainly test your nervous system. He’s heard that keeping the ball below the hole is a big thing at Torrey Pines; if you get above the hole the greens are pretty quick.
The big thing for Brad the past few years is that he has got used to playing in world-class events where the best are in attendance. Whether it be the ZOZO, the British Open, any of the big ones in Japan, it’s not new to him that Dustin will walk by or Louis is on the putting green. He’s seen them all before and to a certain degree he’s competed. He’ll be rising to the challenge that’s for sure.
As his coach, I’m just proud that he has got to this level of golf. You’re trying to get the person you’re coaching to the highest level they can reach. I caddied for Brad at The Open at Royal Lytham in 2012 and been to a few of the bigger tournaments but the US Open is one that I’m sure, in the back of his head, he was hoping he’d have the chance to play for the challenge and the severity of it all.