Kehoe keeps cool in Major leagues

IT WASN’T easy to look star struck at Carnoustie yesterday as a miserable, unrelenting mist — or haar as the Scots like to call it — swept over the great old course from the nearby North Sea.

But a 27-year-old from Shinrone, Co Offaly by the name of Justin Kehoe hardly seemed to notice.

Here he was, against his wildest expectations, preparing to compete in the 136th Open Championship alongside his many heroes like, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk and innumerable others, and relishing every moment.

Rain? What rain?

Alongside him stood his caddie, one Brendan McCartan, a native of Sussex and a man who has worked with a number of the game’s finest like Thomas Bjorn, Jose Coceres,

Ronan Rafferty and most significantly, Jose-Maria Olazabal with whom he captured the Masters at Augusta in 1999.

And then there was Charles Howell III, who also had McCartan on the bag when he won his first title on the US PGA Tour and spoke in glowing terms of how he kept him calm and read his putting lines perfectly.

Having a man of such experience and know-how on Kehoe’s bag is a great coup for Conor Ridge of his management company Horizon and surely gives him an edge. It would hardly be surprising if Justin was just a little overawed by what lies in wait. For heavens sake, he doesn’t even have a card of any kind on the European Challenge Tour and has never played a European Tour event.

He has concentrated his activities on the third-ranked Europro Tour and not done a whole lot there either. Honest and articulate, he admits he wouldn’t be playing professionally were it not for the grants forthcoming from Team Irish Life and Team Ireland.

Precluded from playing under the auspices of the European Tour, Kehoe must look around for any playing options available. The Open Championship lives up to its name, affording as it does most level of professionals and low handicapped golfers to come through the qualifying process. Kehoe duly progressed from the pre-qualifier at Royal Dublin before sensationally picking up the third and final placed in the final qualifier at Montrose last week.

“It’s a boyhood dream come true and when I say it’s unbelievable, that’s exactly what I mean,” he admits.

“I arrived here on Sunday afternoon with my parents and the first person I saw was Tiger Woods playing the 18th. I wasn’t thinking of making it at the qualifying. I knew there was a slim chance and the most satisfying thing was to be able to put two good rounds together.

“My career hasn’t been what I was hoping for when I turned pro so this is amazing and I can’t believe I’m here.

“I’ll try not to think too much about my finishing position. I just want to come up with a game plan for the course that plays to my strengths and stick to my routine … all the usual boring stuff that you need in the crunch and especially for someone like me going in at the deep end.

“It is a plan that hopefully will get me around the course in as few shots as possible.”

The top 70 and ties make the cut and should Justin figure among that number, he is guaranteed a minimum of €12,000. And the man in 156th and last place earns roughly €4,000 — more than he has picked up in a tournament since turning pro after the Home Internationals at Ballybunion in 2003.

This isn’t Kehoe’s first sighting of the formidable Carnoustie links. He was a member of the Irish Home Internationals team here in 2000 and performed very creditably, emerging unbeaten from his three singles. He won against England’s Jamie Elson, now a tour pro, and Richard Brookman of Wales and halved his clash with Ewan Forbes of Scotland.

“Obviously, it’s going to be much tougher this week and as I say, I’m in at the deep end, it’s the Open with all these great players here, it’s magnificent and also a great opportunity to learn, to see how a course is set up for a major championship“, he rationalised.

“I’ve got to enjoy it, soak up the atmosphere, but at the end of the day, it’s yourself, the course and your golf clubs.”

Justin plays with Mattias Eliasson of Sweden and Australian David Gleeson at 10.59am on Thursday and at 4.10pm on Friday.

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