IAN KEENAN heads into 2013 with renewed vigour after a year in which he experienced two golfing extremes.
The Wirral golfer made his firstappearance in The Open at Royal Lytham in the course of the summer, relishing the chance to play on the sport’s biggest stage in front of a gallery of thousands.
But 2012 also saw the 34-year-old travel to Nigeria to deliver a golfing clinic in a nation where the sport is still in the very first stages of its development.
He was joined by Lee Corcoran from Fore Golf in Chester to offer coaching to players at the FB Lagos Open Amateur Championship through sponsors First Bank.
“We were invited for the first time in 2011 when the event celebrated its 50th year of First Bank’s involvement and were delighted to be asked back,” explained the Royal Liverpool player.
“We did some coaching sessions while I chatted about my experiences as a professional out on the various tours.
“Coaching is in its infancy in Nigeria and we are in discussions about how we can increase golf’s accessibility. They are so keen to learn.
“For example, there are millions of people living in Lagos but there is hardly a patch of grass, let alone courses. But there are ways to make it work, versions of the game that can be played on a playground, so it is something we are looking into.”
Keenan’s time in Nigeria could not have contrasted more sharply with his time on the Fylde coast, where he enjoyed the chance to rub shoulders with the sport’s biggest names. Although he missed the cut, the fact that he qualified was enough to help fund a trip to the Mena (Middle East & North Africa) Tour, an initiative by the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation.
“I played six events out there, had a best finish of third, did not finish lower than 17th and came 10th in the order of merit,” he said.
“It has been an up and down year for me – but you could say have clubs, will travel. I have always really enjoyed the travelling side of being a professional and don’t see it as a downside at all.”
Keenan’s success in the Middle East means he can now take a shot at winning a place on the Asian Tour, with qualifying school starting this month.
“Despite all the difficulties I remain as keen as ever,” adds the dad-of-one. “People say ‘you’re not getting any younger’ and I have responsibilities at home and while it is getting harder, I remain as keen as ever to keep playing. I have played a bit in Asia before and while it is different to back home I think I have learnt about reading the grass and the grain on greens, for example, so hopefully I will feel comfortable out there.”
Keenan’s Open experience was a mixed one. After an opening round of 76, he stumbled in the tricky wet conditions on day two to a 83 and bowed out at halfway at the foot of the international field on 19 over par.
“I don’t see anything negative in what happened at The Open,” he said. “It was all positive. I picked up some sponsorship – from the Real Pork Crackling Company and Blowers Watches – who have been very supportive and who got some good exposure themselves.
“Just a couple of weeks before The Open I could not afford to play on the EuroPro Tour, but The Open sponsorship and a bit of prize money allowed me to go to the Middle East and the money I won there has helped me go to Asia.
“It means playing in The Open extended my playing days from June into 2013.
“It can be a hard existence, going from event to event trying to win the money you need just to keep going but I extremely grateful for the support of my sponsors and Royal Liverpool and still think I can find the game to succeed.”