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Kearney to enjoy relative values in week of firsts

DAD'S the word for Walker Cup star Niall Kearney as he makes his European Tour debut in today's first round of the Africa Open.

Gifted Dubliner Kearney (21) will have his father, Joe, by his side as he tries to hit the ground running at East London Golf Club.

Though he narrowly missed out on a Tour card at Europe's final Q-School, Kearney received a sponsor's invite to play on South Africa's Eastern Cape this week.

As they formally announced last night that Royal Dublin's 2009 Brabazon Trophy-winner had joined their growing stable, Horizon Sports Management said they were "hopeful of securing Kearney an invitation to next week's Joburg Open as well".

Kearney will have a pro caddie in Johannesburg, but this week proud Joe will carry his son's bag on a weekend of significant firsts.

A regular fixture on South Africa's Sunshine Tour, the Africa Open is jointly sanctioned by the European circuit for the first time.


Describing himself as "delighted to be making my professional debut," Kearney expressed gratitude to Corrstown, Royal Dublin and "a host of other people who helped me selflessly over the years".

He then paid special tribute to the Golfing Union, saying: "The GUI do a great job with the amateur game in Ireland and long may that continue."

Darren Clarke, who tied second with fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey behind Retief Goosen at the 2009 Africa Open, hopes this week to rekindle his prospects of a place on Europe's Ryder Cup team at Celtic Manor.

"That's why I'm here," said the five-time Ryder Cup veteran. "I want to get off to a fast start. I thought I had a good chance of making it to Valhalla (in 2008) but missed. I desperately want to get back on the European team again."

Kearney, Clarke and Hoey are joined in East London by Ireland's Q-School graduates Gary Murphy and Simon Thornton.

Goosen features in the elite 28-man field in Hawaii at the US Tour's season-opener, the SBS Championship in Kapalua, an event confined to tournament-winners from 2009. In all, 31 won on the US Tour last year but Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson and, of course, Tiger Woods, won't figure this time.

In both tournaments, as well as the Royal Trophy in Bangkok, the world's leading professionals will be obliged to wield golf clubs with the new 'V-grooves' for the first time in competition.

Africa Open, Live, Sky Sports 2, 8.30 & 1.30; SBS championship, Sky Sports 1, 8.0

Irish Independent