Brad Kennedy aims to end JGTO season on a high

Brad Kennedy - TheGolfingHub
At 49, Being the oldest player in the field amidst the emergence of formidable young guns on Tour, Brad Kennedy remains upbeat about his chances at the Tokyo Yomiuri Country Club. Photo: JGTO

Australian veteran Brad Kennedy is aiming to cap off a remarkable turnaround season by establishing himself as a genuine contender at the season-ending Golf Nippon Series JT Cup, set to kick off this Thursday at the Tokyo Yomiuri Country Club.

At 49, Kennedy showcased superb fighting spirit as he navigated through a rough patch at the start of the season, ultimately earning a spot in this week’s ¥130,000,000 showpiece which features only the top 30 performers of the season.

Related: Taichi Nabetani makes late but timely entry into JGTO winner’s circle

Kennedy found his rhythm at the ACN Championship in October, where his renowned consistency came back into play.

Following a tied 12th position in that event, he secured three additional top-six finishes in the next four appearances, including a notable joint third in the Japan Open.

These results were pivotal in propelling him into the top 30, securing his ninth appearance in the JT Cup.

Having finished tied for eighth last year, Kennedy’s best performance was in 2019 when he ended up as the runner-up, narrowly missing out on victory in a playoff against Ryo Ishikawa.

“To be honest, it’s been really tough. At the start of the year, I got COVID and then I got injured in the first event up here (in Japan) as well,” recalled Kennedy, who’s a three-time winner on the JGTO but not since 2018.

“So, I played a couple of events after that with my injury and then it just got too bad that I took time off and sort of had eight weeks off.

“It wasn’t really until I got back in the second half of the season, sort of from KBC, that I actually felt like I’d started the season, and that sort of gave me a limited chance to try and achieve what I wanted to.

“And it was just a bit of a rebuild mentally, physically, trying to get my swing back and not worry too much about the injury and just go play golf again.

“The Japan Open was the real change in the season, where it’s just such a difficult golf course that I knew, just play a little bit smart, stay patient. And my game the week before at ACN had come back, so those two weeks were real keys.

“And since then, I’ve been able to keep those thoughts going, keep the momentum going, and sort of stand here again at the JT Cup and you sort of wonder how, but at the same time, it’s great to be here.”

Being the oldest player in the field amidst the emergence of formidable young guns on Tour, Kennedy remains upbeat about his chances at the Tokyo Yomiuri Country Club that he is so fond of.

“You just got to look at the guys that have played well. There’s a great younger generation coming through and I think I’m the oldest by about five years playing this week,” said Kennedy.

“But it’s a tough course, it’s a scorable course and I think it suits my game also. And I’ve sort of had success here before, haven’t won, but I think this has allowed me to make sure that I’m doing the right things and sort of staying relevant.”

The JT Cup will feature a total of six international players, marking an increase of two from the previous edition.

South Korea’s Song Young-han, the Sansan KBC Augusta winner, and fourth in the money list, holds the highest ranking among the qualifiers.

Also in the fray are Jbe Kruger of South Africa (No. 20 and Sega Sammy Cup winner), the South Korean duo of Yang Ji-ho (No. 33 and Hana Bank Invitational winner) and Koh Gun-taek (No. 36 and Shinhan Donghae Open winner), and the Philippines’ Juvic Pagunsan (No. 48 and Golf Partner Pro-Am Tournament winner).

Yang, Koh, and Pagunsan, despite not finishing inside the top 30, earned a spot by virtue of being the season’s tournament winners.

The season-finale will surely remain exciting despite the already-decided race for the Prize Money King, with Keita Nakajima confirmed as the victor last week, having secured an insurmountable lead over second-placed Takumi Kanaya.

In achieving this, the 23-year-old Nakajima became the third-youngest player to top the Money Rankings, following in the footsteps of Ryo Ishikawa (18) and Hideki Matsuyama (21).

Nonetheless, Nakajima will be filled with determination this week, recognizing the prospect of joining the exclusive ranks as only the fifth player in history to surpass the ¥200,000,000 mark in a season.

To achieve this feat, nothing short of a victory will suffice, with the top prize offering a substantial ¥40,000,000 payout.

The distinguished quartet achieving this milestone includes Jumbo Ozaki (1994, 1996), Toshimitsu Izawa (2001), Hideki Matsuyama (2013), and Yuta Ikeda (2016).

However, Nakajima stressed that what truly matters to him is justifying his recently acquired JGTO No. 1 status with a victory.

“The money stats aren’t a real concern for me. All I want is to secure a win in the season-ending event as the Prize Money King,” Nakajima expressed.