At 45 years old, Brad Kennedy is enjoying perhaps his best season as a professional golfer. The Aussie may have put a capstone on that year on March 1, as he came back to win his second-ever New Zealand Open.
On the final day at Millbrook Resort, Kennedy, who started the day two back of teen leader Joohyung Kim, decimated the host course with a bogey-free 8-under 63 to beat Lucas Herbert by two shots for the victory on 21-under 263.
Kennedy had been through two heartbreaks the past two weeks, finishing T-3 in his last two events, including a meltdown in the final round of the Queensland PGA Championship.
“It’s just hard to put into words the emotion I’ve gone through the last two weeks,” Kennedy said. “It felt like I’d lost two events and then to come back and play how I did this week, I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to really understand why the things happened for the reasons why they did and you just never know in this game."
Kennedy played from ahead in Queensland, but he felt comfortable coming from behind on Sunday.
“I think I was chasing today which put me in a really good mindset to continue to attack and I felt like a couple of times in the last few weeks I’d started to play out of what I can do and what I trust where today I really just focused on doing what I needed to do," he said.
Kennedy made up ground with early strings of birdies, including three in the first six holes. Meanwhile, Kim was 2 over through 10. Herbert played his way into the lead, but he made a double bogey on 13 as Kennedy made three consecutive birdies from Nos. 12 through 14. Kennedy had a three-shot lead with just four holes to play.
Coming up the 18th hole, Kennedy finally realized he was the leader. After the last few weeks, that was part of the plan.
“Under pressure that’s hard, to get out there in the second last group and shoot that score under those conditions," Kennedy said. "I wasn’t aware of the scoring, because in the past that’s been a negative for me, just to look up and have those emotions affect you, whether you are in front or behind. I really made a conscious effort today of head down, wait until it’s finished and then react.”
However, Herbert reduced the lead to a shot by the time he got to the 18th tee. His tee shot on No. 18 landed in a hazard, giving Kennedy the title, his 13th professional win and first on the Asian Tour, which co-sanctioned the event.
“I saw that Lucas got to 20 and then I putted out and I thought, well if he makes a birdie we are in a playoff, so I was never done until they said he hit it in the water,” he said.
After a fruitful career, with much of it spent in Japan, Kennedy had looked at this season as his swan song.
“It’s pretty special. I don’t know if I’ll win a second one again, to be honest,” he said. “I was looking to hang the boots up at the end of this year, I’ve been doing it for 25 years and just really wanted to make this year a really positive year to end. I’ve sacrificed a lot, but also my family has sacrificed a lot too. I’ve been pretty selfish over the last 15, 20 years playing the game and it just feels now is a good time to get back and watch my girls grow up and spend some time at home.”
Suddenly, with three roller-coaster weeks, Kennedy will rise on Monday to his highest-ever position in the Official World Golf Ranking, on the edge of the top 100 in the world.