The Challenge Tour reaches a dramatic conclusion at the Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai
The 2013 Challenge Tour will reach a dramatic conclusion this week when the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final is staged for the first time at the Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai.
After 24 tournaments, spread across 20 different countries, the Grand Final will confirm who is to finish the season as No. 1 on the Challenge Tour Rankings and which 15 players will graduate to next season’s European Tour.
The stakes could not be higher as the top 44 players on the Challenge Tour Rankings start out at Al Badia this morning (Thursday). The likes of Sweden’s Johan Carlsson, Holland’s Daan Huizing, Spain’s Adrian Otaegui and Finland’s Roope Kakku will all harbour hopes of catching current leader, Italian Andrea Pavan, at the top of the Rankings while every player down to 44th placed Niklas Lemke knows that a win would be enough to allow them to claim a prized European Tour card by finishing in the top-15 on the Challenge Tour Rankings.
The Challenge Tour is widely regarded as an ideal stepping stone between amateur golf and the European Tour which is why The R&A has supported it since its inception, contributing £80,000 in funding this year alone, and why so many of this week’s field have impressive amateur pedigrees.
Pavan is a case in point. The 24 year-old from Rome was a member of three Continent of Europe Jacques Leglise teams and also represented Italy in the Eisenhower Trophy before turning professional back in 2010 and now some three years later he is on the cusp of a return to European Tour action after a magnificent 2013 season during which he has won twice, at the Open Blue Green Côtes d’Armor Bretagne and the Bad Griesbach Challenge Tour by Hartl Resort, and claimed five other top-10 finishes.
Pavan (Pictured below) has already tasted success at a Challenge Tour Grand Final having topped the field in the same event two years ago.
“To finish the Rankings as Number One would be great,” said the Italian. “It’s something I can control if I play well and hopefully I can do that. Then that will take care of it but if somebody goes on and plays better than me, I can’t do anything about it. If I know that I put everything into it then I’ll be satisfied.
“If someone told me I would be No. 1 going into the Grand Final at the start of the season I don’t know if I would have believed them.
“Towards the end of last year I was struggling with my confidence. It was very disappointing but I learned from it and got back, worked hard in the winter and got hungry again to get good results and get consistent again.
“My win in the Grand Final in 2011 was certainly one of the greatest moments of my career, it was huge, but this year in general and the two wins I had were quite big.
“This year has felt better than two years ago. In the first season, you come out and there is less pressure, but when you gain your card and fall back it can get harder for you.
“I was proud I could make a good comeback, it’s not easy to get back up and I showed that I can do it. It gives me a lot of confidence, especially because I do get down on myself sometimes so I need to believe in myself a bit more.”
Holland’s Daan Huizing will also be well known to followers of the amateur game. He won the 2012 Lytham Trophy by 14 shots and then claimed an 11 shot victory in the subsequent St Andrews Links Trophy before turning professional at the end of last year.
22 year-old Huizing has since gone on to confirm his status as one of golf’s hottest prospects by claiming back-to-back Challenge Tour victories in the Northern Ireland Open Challenge Presented by Clannah and XJET and the Kharkov Superior Cup, in the Ukraine.
Pavan and Huizing are by no means the only players in this week’s 44-strong field to have turned professional after reaching the top in the amateur game. Oliver Wilson, Jamie Elson, Rhys Davies, Stuart Manley and Robert Dinwiddie all represented GB & I in the Walker Cup while Byeong-hun An, from South Korea, won the 2009 US Amateur Championship and Adrian Otaegui won the 2010 Boys Amateur Championship. France’s Julien Guerrier beat England’s Adam Gee in the final of the 2006 Amateur Championship while Andrew McArthur was the 2002 Scottish Amateur Champion and Sam Walker reached the final of the Boys Amateur Championship in 1995.
Martin Yates from The R&A’s Golf Development Committee will be in Dubai as all of the players battle it out for the €56,650 first prize. The event at Al Badia Golf Club also provides a fittingly glamorous end to celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the Challenge Tour during which time the Tour has proved to be a useful breeding ground for some of the world’s best players, with Thomas Björn, Nicolas Colsaerts, Martin Kaymer, Edoardo Molinari, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson all having played on the Challenge Tour before going on to worldwide fame.
This year’s Challenge Tour finale starts a Festival of Golf which will also see Dubai host the European Tour’s DP World Tour Championship followed by the Ladies European Tour’s Omega Dubai Ladies Masters.
Stenson (Pictured right) emerged victorious in the Challenge Tour’s 2000 Grand Final in Cuba and, as the current No. 1 on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, he has the chance to become the first Challenge Tour No. 1 to also top the European Tour Order of Merit.
“It would be a very nice honour to become the first player to win the Challenge Tour Rankings and The Race to Dubai,” said the Swede. “Making those kinds of records is probably something I’ll look back on when my career is finished but being the first player to achieve something is always pretty cool.
“I’ve still got a fair way to go to wrap up The Race to Dubai title but, if I finish this season like I did on the Challenge Tour in 2000, I reckon I might just do it.
“The Challenge Tour is obviously where it all began for me,” added the 29 year-old from Gothenburg. “It’s a Tour that in some ways helped me become the player I am today. I had a great season in 2000 but it was towards the end of the season that I really started to find my best form. I think I finished in the top five in my last four tournaments, including two wins in Sweden and then at the Grand Final in Cuba, where I played really well to beat Mika (Lundberg) by around five shots.
“It was the perfect end to a great season.”