DYLAN O’Keeffe is a natural right-hander but he grew up playing golf in his Warrnambool backyard with left-handed clubs.
While the introduction to the sport through his father Pat’s sticks might seem unusual in a dexterity sense, it laid the foundation for a burgeoning career.
“The first golf lesson I had with (Warrnambool pro) Craig Bonney, the first thing he said was ‘you’re a natural right-hander, aren’t you?,” O’Keeffe said.
Next week, the 20-year-old will test his left-handed game at the highest level when he contests the PGA National Futures Championship at Catalina Country Club in Batemans Bay, on the New South Wales south coast.
The Port Fairy Golf Club trainee professional is one of 111 aspiring pros to enter the 72-hole event, the world’s richest trainee tournament, which determines the Australian trainee champion.
Aside from the $55,000 prize purse, the winner is guaranteed a place in the field at next year’s Australian PGA against the country’s best professionals and international players at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast.
O’Keeffe, in the second year of his three-year traineeship under Port Fairy’s head professional Paul Smith, is excited about the challenge.
He has stepped up his practice and playing schedule in the past six weeks.
“I’ve spent a lot more time on the range hitting balls,” he said. “I’ve been trying to look after my body a bit better.
“My preparation for this event has been the best preparation I’ve put into an event ever.”
He has played six consecutive trainee events, which involves him using his “day off” from working in the Port Fairy pro-shop to travel to one-day events around the state.
“The form going into this is reasonably solid. I hope a few more putts drop next week,” he said.
O’Keeffe said the tournament was a step towards his goal of playing professionally on the Australasian tour.
“Every time you play out there, you learn something different about yourself and your game,” he said.
He said he had been concentrating on the mental side of his game.
He wants to make the half-way cut before pushing for a top-20 finish.
“I think that’s a realistic goal,” he said.
O’Keeffe said he had received good support from his coach and boss Smith and thanked the Port Fairy Golf Club for helping him make the trip.
He will be joined in the field by former south-west golfer Quinton Howe, who is one of the favourites for the event.
Howe, who is based at Kew Golf Club, grew up on a dairy farm at Nullawarre.
The 27-year-old finished runner-up in the event last year, two shots behind the winner, on the same course as next week’s tournament.