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Morri: Kenny's Case Of David vs Goliath

Grant Kenny's NSW Senior Open win was a classic case of David overcoming Goliath (Photo: Henry Peters)
Bearing a name more famous than his game, Grant Kenny thought he was done with competitive golf more than a decade ago.

He never quite made it in the upper echelons of pro golf, despite the general consensus that he had more than enough game to succeed, which makes his David vs Goliath win at the recent NSW Senior Open at Thurgoona Golf Club a story of both inspiration and hope.

Kenny stared down none other than Peter Senior to claim the biggest purse on Australia’s over 50s golf circuit, an achievement that will live with the Sydney golfer forever though it was a somewhat unlikely one in many ways.

It was at the urging of his wife, and some ribbing from his fellow professionals at the Thornleigh driving range in northern Sydney, that Kenny even picked up the clubs post 50.

“Steve (Aisbett, owner of the range) and Al (Alan May, of ‘Hello Al’ fame) started revving me up and asking me if I was going to play any events,” he said.

“Then Al got me a start at the Springwood pro-am, which he runs, and I played awful. But I couldn’t help but think ‘I still want to do this.’

“I played a few more events and kept playing terrible and of course those two were laughing at me and that’s when it became competitive. That was the key.”

For the first time in a long time Kenny started not only practising before work but enjoying it.

“I’d set the alarm to get up and go and I’d wake up before it went off,” he says.

It had been a long time since Kenny had done anything like that. In the previous 12 years, his only golf consisted of the occasional comp round with the members at Concord.

“I remember I shot 63 one Wednesday and thought to myself ‘What am I doing here’,” he says with a laugh.

But the reality was that with a wife, mortgage and young daughter, heading back out to pursue a playing career simply wasn’t an option.

“Every day I regretted not playing,” he says in hindsight, “but I made a lot of mistakes early in my career that I couldn’t catch up.

“I left too late to go overseas and try my hand and I never really recovered. I remember having a long talk to Craig Parry about it once and when he went to Japan he left with virtually no money in his pocket.

“I wish I’d done the same but I always thought I’d take another year to get some more money behind me before I took the plunge. It ended up being the difference.”

Born and raised on Norfolk Island it was only dumb luck, and some less than pleasant weather, that brought Kenny to the game in the first place.

“I used to do sailing for school sport,” he says. “But one day it was so cold and windy and miserable that I couldn’t face the thought of getting wet out on the water.

“So I skipped sailing and went to golf instead. I got in a bit of trouble at the time but it turned out to be a pretty big deal in my life.’

Quickly hooked, Kenny began spending all his spare time at Norfolk Island Golf Club and eventually took a traineeship, at the age of 17, at Monash Country Club in Sydney.

“I had known Dave Mercer (professional at Killara Golf Club) for a long time since he used to come to the Island once a year to give lessons,” he says.

“I would stay with him when I came to Sydney in the school holidays and it was him who arranged that first job for me.”

A respectable playing career followed in Australia, including a runner-up finish to Grant Waite at the 1992 New Zealand Open, but unable to establish himself internationally Kenny gave up on the touring lifestyle.

Fast forward more than two decades and he says it came as a bit of a shock to find himself at the pointy end of a serious tournament again, especially in the company of one of the game’s great closers.

Starting the final round one shot behind Senior, Kenny had it on a string for the first nine holes.

Peter Senior came out of retirement to play last week's Australian PGA but remains a regular at Australian senior events.

“Five (under) was the worst I could have been at the turn,” he says. “Everything just went right.

“I hit all my spots off the tees and all the putts were uphill. By the time we got to the 11th tee I was five in front. And that’s when it went pear shaped.”

Destructive shots had proved costly in the smaller events all season and Kenny hit a bad one off the 11th tee, a drive that hit a tree and flew into all sorts of trouble.

The upshot was a triple bogey to Senior’s par and with the lead cut from five to two it was game on.

“You could see the sudden spark in his step,” Kenny says of Senior’s change in demeanour.

“He was in it now and I knew we had a match on our hands.”

After the sparkling golf of the first nine Kenny found himself struggling on the way home and despite playing decent was having to work to make pars.

As Senior faced birdie try after birdie try Kenny had to make three consecutive awkward putts from ‘more than five feet but less than eight’ to maintain his advantage.

The epic battle finally came to an end at the 17th when Senior made a mistake off the tee.

“He went left, and you just can’t go left,” says Kenny. “He was still trying to make a three but it was one of those situations where if that didn’t come off you were making five and that’s what happened.

“I had an awkward putt for birdie from about 20 feet and rolled it to within a foot to go back to three in front with one to play and that was pretty much the end of it.”

The win was a defining moment for Kenny in a career that had always promised more than it delivered.

At 50, and driven by the good-natured taunts of his contemporaries at work, the champion golfer within was finally released.

“It was an honour to play with Pete in that last round because he was playing his hardest and he wanted to win,” says Kenny.

“To be able to come out ahead under those circumstances, that’s something I’m extremely proud of.”

But the best thing of all?

“I got to put the trophy up on the shelf where Steve keeps all his,” he says with a grin.

“And it’s the biggest one there.”


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