Fit-again Kearney up for the Challenge
Niall Kearney celebrates his 23rd birthday tomorrow far from his home in Raheny, Dublin - but teeing off in the Challenge Tour event in Colombia is the best present he could receive.
Kearney, the only Royal Dublin member in the club's illustrious history to play in the Walker Cup, has endured repeated frustration with shoulder problems that have disrupted his fledgling professional career.
Now, after months spent out of the game during 2010, he is happy to say: "The shoulder is in first-class condition. I'm physically fit and I'm hitting the ball 12 yards further on my drives."
For now, it's all systems go for Kearney after his launch into the 2011 Challenge Tour campaign came to a shuddering halt in a messy way -- literally.
The Dubliner had spent time in Thailand during the bad weather in Ireland fine-tuning his game before making the journey to India for the Gujarat Kensville Challenge in Ahmedabab.
Round one was on January 13, and it proved unlucky for Kearney as he got violently ill and dehydrated from food poisoning.
He filed an opening 73, but then the dreaded bug hit.
"Something I ate made me sick," he said. "I got diarrhoea and was vomiting so much I got totally dehydrated. I was on a drip for over 12 hours and had to pull out of the tournament. That was very tough to take."
Kearney's family were on holiday in Thailand, so when he was well enough Niall travelled back there for more warm-weather practice.
He returned to Dublin on February 6 and since then has spent time tuning up his body for the rigours of Tour golf at the new Medfit fitness facility situated in Blackrock Business Park on Carysfort Avenue.
It is owned by John Murphy, one of Ireland's leading Chartered Physiotherapists, and Barry Walsh who has worked in the leisure industry for 20 years.
Their concept is fitness for all based on a results-oriented system which will show results on a 34-minute workout, twice a week.
The basic programme for exercise and weight loss is circuit training on computerised hi-tech machines.
They also have hi-tech machines tailored for working on spinal and back rehab and strengthening, and this is where Kearney reckons he has gained that extra 12 yards.
Last Thursday, supervised by physiotherapist Ann Marie O'Connor, he demonstrated one of the machines which has helped improve his upper-body rotation.
"All these machines isolate the right muscles, so there's no compensation or dodging out of it, and I'm seeing the benefits," said Kearney.
"The equipment and the team at Medfit of physios, sports scientists and strength-and-conditioning coaches have been brilliant in helping me rehab and get fit for the season."
His connection arose through working with John Murphy for that shoulder problem. One of Ireland's leading amateurs before he turned pro in 2009, Kearney had been troubled by recurring issues with his left shoulder.
It began as a niggle in 2007, then gradually escalated. Kearney found as he played through the 2009 season leading up to the Walker Cup that year that 36 holes a day -- the norm for amateur events -- was becoming a problem.
He turned pro after the Walker Cup and got a Challenge Tour ranking at the European Tour Q-School in late 2009. However, the search for an answer to the shoulder injury was a long one and, in the end, Kearney had three surgical interventions.
He was out of action for three weeks between the Walker Cup and the Q-School in 2009, for six weeks after keyhole surgery in February 2010 and finally, for six months after the third and most successful operation.
This was performed in London last May by Andrew Wallace, who had performed surgery on Irish international 'keeper Shay Given.
After six months out, Kearney only had a short time to get competitive ahead of the 2010 Q-School. He missed the cut at tournaments in Rome and Toulouse, but was happy enough.
"I just wanted to get a scorecard in my hand and see how the game was in tournament conditions before the Qualifying School," he said.
"The Tour were giving me a medical exemption for 2011 but I wanted to get a card in my own right. That way I'd get to choose everything I played in.
"In the end I missed the main Tour card by something like nine shots, but I made the cut and I have a full Challenge Tour card for the year.
"I should also get into seven or eight main Tour events, so I'm looking forward to the year."