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3rd July 2019 | Big Easy Tour

O’Kennedy shares pole position at Akasia

Stellenbosch Golf Club’s Hennie O’Kennedy surged up the leaderboard into a share of the lead with a flawless four-under 68 on day two of the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour #6 at Akasia Golf Club on Tuesday.

The Boland rookie moved up from an overnight share of sixth to three-under overall, alongside co-leader Matthew Rushton, who carded 69.

Sitting on two-under in second on his own is Gideon van der Vyver after a second round five-under 67, with Quintin Wilnach matching Van der Vyfer for the low round of the day to finish a further shot back.

While co-leader Rushton – who plays out of neighbouring Erinvale – mixed an eagle at the par five fifth and a trio of birdies with two bogeys for a share of pole position, O’Kennedy submitted the only flawless card on the day.

It was that kind of consistency that makes him a favourite to lift the trophy on Wednesday.

“If I keep my same strategy it should serve me well in the final round, but it’s definitely going to be the guy who holes the most putts who walks off with the trophy. If I get the putter going I could shoot a low one,” O’Kennedy said.

Starting his round on the 10th, O’Kennedy recorded birdies on the 12th and 14th holes and he made further gains at coming home six and seven. Alongside 14 pars, it was indeed an impressive effort on the hard and fast putting surfaces of the Pretoria layout.

“I played pretty steadily, I hit most of the green in regulation and tried to two-putt most of them,” he said. “I hit a pretty good wedge shot to about three foot on the (par three) 12th. On the par five (14th), I hit a great drive and just had a wedge in.

“I knocked it to 10-foot past the hole and just missed the eagle putt, and tapped in for birdie. Then I boxed about a 40-footer for my third birdie at the (par four) sixth. On my third last hole (the par four seventh), I hit an eight-iron to about a foot from the hole.”

Navigating the tricky greens at Akasia requires full attention, something that will be at the forefront of O’Kennedy’s mind.

“The greens are quite firm so you can’t really attack the pins, you have to be quite conservative. I just tried to remain focussed and find the middle of the greens,” he explained.

“It’s not your normal type of greens where you can stop a wedge, you almost have to play to the correct part of the surfaces to have any type of run at birdie. Here you have to pitch it 10 or 15 feet short and run it up to the hole. If you want to get it close.”

At 23, O’Kennedy is slighter older than a lot of the other players on the development circuit which prepares young professionals for the Sunshine Tour.

But he has an advantage over most of the ‘young bucs’ in that he has already completed a three-year course – PGA of SA Diploma at Stellenbosch Golf Club through Swingfit. This allowed him to take an extra year before turning professional with the theory that it would better prepare him for life in the paid ranks.

A tie for seventh at State Mines last week boosted O’Kennedy to seventh in the Road to Sunshine Tour, and victory or a top-three in this event would help hugely in the quest to finish the season inside the top-six to earn a full playing card for the next Sunshine Tour season.

“That’s the ultimate prize and I definitely want to try and get into that top-six,” said the rookie.

“If I do that I’ll be pretty happy, but then everyone on the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour is playing for the same prize. I just need a few good finishes to get myself in contention and it could start here this week.”