The agony and ecstasy of the Challenge Tour opportunity
European Tour

The agony and ecstasy of the Challenge Tour opportunity

If, at the start of 2017, 26-year-old Duke University grad Julian Suri was setting targets for himself ahead of his debut season on the Challenge Tour, the European Tour's equivalent of the Tour, then reaching Grand Final might have been top of the list.

The bad news? He didn't make it.

The good news? He didn't make it for all the right reasons.

This week the New Yorker plays in the Turkish Airlines Open, the latest step on the Race to Dubai, and he does so because of a breakout win in the European Tour's Made in Denmark tournament in August.

But the foundations of that success were very clearly built on the secondary circuit and as such he is part of a very modern American golfing heritage on this side of the Atlantic.

The trailblazers of the trend were Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka, both of whom played on the Challenge Tour in 2012 and, given what they have achieved since, it is somewhat surprising (and revealing) to recall that neither graduated at the first time of asking.

Instead they returned in 2013. Uihlein completed victory in the Madeira Islands Open, an event co-sanctioned with the European Tour, thereby earning promotion. Koepka, suddenly without a roommate, claimed a third seasonal win by the end of June. Battlefield Promotion completed, buddies reunited.

Connor Arendell, Tain Lee, Dodge Kemmer, Brinson Paolini, Daniel Im, John Hahn and Sihwan Kim have followed in their compatriots' footsteps, albeit with lesser rewards, and Suri joined them, initially on invites last season.

He very nearly emulated Uihlein in claiming a co-sanctioned event in May before grabbing the D+D Real Czech Challenge before the month was out. He pushed on, completing the leap in August. In doing so he validated the belief of Challenge Tour Director Alain de Soultrait that the circuit has never been stronger. Where once there were five high quality performers throughout the year, he argues, now there are 15 to 20.

The Tour concludes with the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final at Al Mouj Golf in Muscat, the capital of Oman. It is an event that has traveled the world since inauguration in 1996 and quietly it has become one of the most compelling tournaments on the golfing calendar.

The field comprises the top 45 players in the rankings, and when the tournament is concluded, the top 15 earn graduation to the European Tour. It sits alongside US Open qualifying, Open qualifying, the last events of regular seasons and Q Schools as the exception to the golfing rule that there is only ever one winner. The Grand Final has 15 and with multiple winners come multiple story lines.

The gut-wrenching drama which that unusual golfing narrative provides is everything the organizers of the FedEx Cup playoffs and DP World Tour Championship dream of.

Why? Because with multiple winners there are also multiple losers. Sure, any golfing week has plenty of them, but they always have next week and they are rarely dealt their fate in such tortuous ways and means.

The numbers involved are not merely those used to count the swings. The week's earnings are added to the seasonal tally, heightening the volatility.

Every swing can matter this week and not just each player's own efforts, as Wales' Oliver Farr acknowledged when recalling the experience of playing in the final group three years ago.

He reached the 72nd hole out of contention for the title, but something struck him: Whatever he did from that point until picking the ball out of the hole might alter the fate of two, three or four of his peers.

He didn't know who they were (the labyrinthine figures would be impossible to calculate), but he was correct: Birdie, par or bogey meant success or failure for two players. Jerome Lando Casanova profited, Antonio Hortal suffered.

It's the paradox of Challenge Tour and its grand finale: The opportunity the circuit provides is great, but so is the prospect of excruciating agony in the Grand Final.

About the author


Matt Cooper

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