Scots face tough task to get back to securing cards again on ever-strengthening Challenge Tour
It wasn’t to be for the Scots for the second year running in the battle to secure a step up to the DP World Tour from the Challenge Tour, which is disappointing after a purple patch in recent years saw Bob MacIntyre, Ewen Ferguson, David Law, Grant Forrest, Calum Hill and Connor Syme all graduate through that particular path.
It’s now been a case of close but no cigar for Euan Walker for two years running, having gone into the season-ending Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final supported by The R&A lying 21st and 20th only to agonisingly miss out on getting his mitts on one of the 20 coveted cards by ending the campaign in 23rd and 26th in the Road to Mallorca Rankings.
Two years after he’d graduated along with Ferguson, who, of course, has since gone on to become a double DP World Tour winner, Craig Howie had a mountain to climb on this occasion as he started out sitting 42nd, which meant he needed to either win at Club de Golf Alcanada near Port D’Alcudia, and, by the time the final putt of the season had been holed on Sunday evening, he’d only managed to jump up three spots.
Having decided again not to take up his exemption for the final stage of the DP World Tour Qualifying School, which starts in Tarragona on Friday, Walker will need to try and make it third-time lucky for him on the Challenge Tour and here’s hoping he is ready and raring to go for the start of the 2024 campaign in South Africa in February because he is good enough to eventually make that jump up onto the main tour.
The 28-year-old, who works with Gregor Monks, has a lovely swing and also possesses one of the best temperaments I’ve come across in the game. I like the fact as well that he’ll only do what’s right for him. Having put a lot of time and effort into trying to get himself ready, both technically and mentally, for the Grand Final and not achieving the outcome he was looking for, he obviously feels it wouldn’t be right to face another stressful situation at the six-round marathon at the Tour School and should be applauded for his decision.
In a chat with this correspondent in Mallorca, 2018 Scottish Open champion Brandon Stone talked about how he’d made a huge call 12 months ago when, after losing his DP World Tour card, he decided not to head to the Qualifying School due to his game being in such a poor place. Instead, he headed home to South Africa to do some serious work on it and now he’s just secured his seat back at the top table.
Though he won last season but not this time around, Walker felt his game had improved overall this year and, if he can take everything up another notch, then there is no reason why he can’t eventually become a DP World Tour card holder and the same goes for Howie as he seeks to regain his status for the main circuit.
In the middle two rounds in Mallorca, the 29-year-old Peebles man played some of the best golf out of anyone in the 45-man field. He had just one blip in 36 holes and that was an incredible effort on a course that is difficult enough without the wind blowing a hoolie, as it did for most of the week on this occasion on the Balearic Island.
As he admitted himself, Howie was let down by his putting and, having witnessed it, his week was probably summed up by a three-putt at the par-3 fourth in the final circuit. His long birdie attempt just moved a touch before it reached the hole but then wasn’t even close with a two-footer as the wind he’d factored in didn’t have any impact.
Having always been the plan in his case, Howie is trying his luck at the Qualifying School, where he will be joined by Daniel Young, who has played on the Challenge Tour for the last couple of seasons, after he came through last week’s second stage along with Calum Fyfe, Callum McNeill, Oliver Roberts and Ryan Lumsden. Also flying the Saltire at Infinitum Golf will be Marc Warren, who, unfortunately, just fell on the wrong side of the cut-off mark in this season’s Race to Dubai.
If this season is anything to go by, it’s not going to get any easier for Scottish players to follow in the footsteps of those aforementioned tartan graduates in recent years and lots of others before them because the depth in standard on the second-tier circuit is possibly the best its ever been right now, which is really exciting for the head of Challenge Tour, Jamie Hodges, and his staff.
In addition to the aforementioned Stone, two other multiple DP World Tour winners, Matteo Manassero and Andrea Pavan, were also among this year’s graduates and, boy, does the list boast some exciting young talent, including man of the moment in Mallorca Marco Penge as he emulated fellow Englishman Nathan Kimsey in pulling off a title double by winning the finale and topping the standings, as well as 20-year-old South African Casey Jarvis, 21-year-old pocket rocket Frenchman Tom Vaillant and Spaniard Manuel Elvira as he joined his older brother, Nacho, by holding a DP World Tour card.
Helped by winning the Farmfoods Scottish Challenge earlier in the year, English left-hander Sam Bairstow also made the step up at the end of an event that delivers unrivalled drama in the European game and hats off to Jamie Spence, Mark Roe, Dominik Holyer, Kit Alexander and Inci Mehmet for doing their bit in the live commentary for Sky Sports Golf to relay that in the perfect tone.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.