Connelly up for the European Challenge Tour ahead of Kenya debut

Austin Connelly is feeling confident ahead of his European Challenge Tour debut as the 2017 Road to Oman begins at the Barclays Kenya Open.

The Canadian, who represented the USA in the 2014 Junior Ryder Cup, secured status on the Challenge Tour by making the cut at the Final Stage of European Tour Qualifying School and has since caught the eye with a top ten finish at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth last month.

The 20 year old was in relaxed mood at Nairobi’s Muthaiga Golf Club as he prepared to take the first step towards his ultimate goal of a European Tour card for next season.

“I feel great,” he said. “I’ve been on the road for a while now and I’m really looking forward to just getting the week started and I’m feeling good about my game.

“I like the golf course and I feel like I can really score on the back nine – that’s really where I think I can do a lot of damage. I’m excited for the week and it’s just nice to get the season started.

“I had a lot of fun in Australia and I feel like my game is in really good form. India was just a really weird week, I’ve never seen a golf course like it before – I enjoyed it, I liked it, but it was just different.

“But I’m driving it very straight, which out here will be very important because there are a lot of penalties if you don’t drive it straight, and the greens are pretty good so hopefully I can get it rolling and have a good finish this week.

“This is my first Challenge Tour event but I’ve played a lot – I’ve played six PGA Tour events, two European Tour events now and a couple of Tour events, so I feel very at ease.

“It’s just another week – you’ve got 27 events out here this year, so there’s always next week. That’s the way I’m trying to look at it, just show up each week and do the best you can, and come the end of the year I’m sure it will add up to something pretty good.”

While many other golfers are coy when it comes to setting targets for themselves, Connelly has no such qualms when stating his ambition is to graduate from the Road to Oman – the top 15 in the Rankings earn European Tour cards come the end of the season.

“I absolutely have goals for the year,” he said. “I want to finish in the top 15 on the Road to Oman, get a full European Tour card for next year – I’ll play a few European Tour events as well so maybe do well enough there to get status, but that’s the goal.

“I want to play enough out on the Challenge Tour to make sure I give myself a really good opportunity to finish in that top 15 and I also want to play enough on the European Tour so that if I have a good event out there it could be another pathway forward.”

A stand-alone tournament on the Challenge Tour’s calendar, this year is the 25th time the historic Barclays Kenya Open has been part of the tour’s schedule, and always offers a memorable experience for the week.

Connelly has never visited Africa before, let alone Kenya, but feels he has quickly acclimatised and is ready to contend in the Nairobi sunshine over the coming four days.

“This is actually my first time to Africa, not just Kenya,” he said. “I like it here – the hotel is very nice, the people have been extremely friendly, the food is good, so no complaints.

“The golf course is very, very firm, I almost feel like I’m playing links golf, and the altitude is a factor for sure – I hit a six iron today from about 219 and it just goes so far.

“Once the tournament juices get flowing a little bit it might even get exacerbated a little bit, but we’ll see – I certainly feel good going into the week.”

A strong field has assembled for the Challenge Tour’s season opener, featuring six former winners of this event, including defending champion Sebastian Soderberg.

Players from 28 different countries will tee it up, including 28 Kenyans, one of whom, Jacob Okello, will be playing in the tournament for the 20th time.

Extra excitement surrounded the presence of footballing legend Jay-Jay Okocha, who took part in the pre-tournament Pro-Am and delighted the crowds by performing keepie-uppies with a golf ball before teeing off.

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