Hot on the heels of the leading three players on the Sunshine Tour’s Luno Order of Merit, Hennie O’Kennedy typifies an emerging group of players who are working overtime during the tour’s seven-week winter recess.
O’Kennedy has had three top-10 finishes in the first five events of the 2022-23 season, and he has been an increasingly regular fixture in the television coverage of the tour as fans have watched four first-time winners take titles in a clear demonstration of the health of the talent conveyor belt that is South African golf.
He missed the cut in the final event before the break, the KitKat Group Pro-Am, where Dylan Mostert became the latest first-time winner of the season, but his share of third place in the Sishen Classic gave him his biggest payday yet as a professional and his best finish on the Sunshine Tour.
Now, O’Kennedy’s aim will be to emulate those first-time winners when the tour grinds back into action on July 28 with the FNB Eswatini Nkonyeni Challenge. The other first-time winners have been Herman Loubser in the season-opening Lombard Insurance Classic, Albert Venter in the FBC Zimbabwe Open, and Deon Germishuys in the KitKat Group Pro-Am. The other winner was Rourke van der Spuy, who won the SunBet Challenge at Sun City for his second title after a seven-and-a-half year wait since his first.
Those four first-time winners are all inside the top 10 of the Luno Order of Merit, and, in fourth place, O’ Kennedy is best-placed of a host of other players pursuing their first victories. Others inside the top 20 who are in that chasing pack include Stefan Wears-Taylor in 11th, Rupert Kaminski in 12th, Ryan van Velzen in 17th and Keagan Thomas in 18th.
Wears-Taylor shared second behind Venter in Zimbabwe for his best finish, and Kaminski has had two top-10s, with a share of fourth in the Lombard Insurance Classic and of sixth in the Sishen Classic. Newly-minted professional Van Velzen can point to his share of fourth in the KitKat Group Pro-Am in support of his efforts to get a win in his rookie season, and Thomas finished in a share of sixth in the same tournament.
For O’Kennedy, a glance at the statistics will guide him as he prepares for the restart of the season: He leads the tour in the average number of birdies per round with 4.13 in his 16 tournament rounds, be he languishes in 83rd place on the driving accuracy list with just 53 percent of 217 fairways hit this season.
So, some work on being straighter and, then converting the opportunities he gives himself by making more putts when he hits greens in regulation, and the breakthrough will come.