10. Amateurs and the European Challenge Tour

22nd May 2016

On 24th February 2016 the European Challenge Tour announced changes to it’s regulations to allow amateurs to earn points in an amended 2016 Road to Oman competition.

A maximum of 6 amateur invites are now allowed for each tournament with any one amateur allowed to play in no more than 7 events during the season. Invites largely remain a gift of the National Golf Unions and Federations and can be traded for different events as they have been with pros for many years.

European Challenge Tour Logo

Subject to paying a membership fee an amateur can therefore now accumulate points and potentially graduation to the main European Tour if they finish in the Top 15 season ranking. Previously amateurs were unrewarded for their performances on the Challenge Tour.

Romain Langasque, who subsequently turned pro after The Masters, currently lies 4th in the ranking and is quickly showing how the new rules can be made to work to an amateur’s advantage. In March he finished 2nd in The Barclays Kenya Open as an amateur to get his Challenge Tour season off to a flying start. He has built on this to win more points in each of his subsequent four events as a pro.

Of course I am interested in seeing how the new rules work for GB&I amateurs and the impact it has on them turning pro.

The first to get on the bandwagon have been leading Scottish amateurs Ewen Ferguson and Grant Forrest. Last weekend the two of them completed the second of four European Challenge Tour events allocated to them by Scottish Golf and management company, Bounce Golf. The 2015 Walker Cup-winning pair played in both the Turkish Airlines Challenge and then the Montecchia Open by Lyoness.

To his credit Ferguson made the cut in both events. In Turkey he shot 70, 70, 76 and 67 to finish on -5 (€705). In Italy, where the event was reduced to 54-holes he shot 69, 66 and 74 to finish on -4. If he had been a pro he would have earned c.€1,400 for his two weeks work.

Forrest missed the cut in Turkey after rounds of 68 and 76. In Italy rounds of 70, 67 and 78 saw him finish on +2. Again if he had been a pro he would have earned c.€550 for his week’s work.

The potential monetary rewards they would have received would clearly not have covered either player’s costs which once again highlights the difficulties of turning pro. Of course the last two weeks were about experience rather than prize money for both of the Scottish lads but nevertheless the harsh realities of professional golf can never be completely ignored.

In an interview with the Challenge Tour on 18th May 2016 Forrest said: “To be able to mix your schedule up with some Challenge Tour events really gives you an insight into what the pro game is like. Now that there’s been the rule change where we can get points, it’s a huge step that’s really encouraging. There’s a bit of a difference between the amateur game and the Challenge Tour I’ve noticed. Everyone does their own thing out here but it surprised me a little bit how relaxed it was.”

Ferguson told the Challenge Tour in the same article: “The plan would be to turn professional at the end of this season. You never know how everything’s going to go in golf though – if you win the Amateur Championship or you win a pro event then everything could change. Turning pro is the end goal – sooner rather than later – and definitely by the end of this year. I still have targets in the amateur game that would be nice to achieve, and I just want to keep learning.”

I am pleased both players appear to have enjoyed and benefited from their recent Challenge Tour experiences.

However, what is now very clear, particularly in the case of Ewen Ferguson, is that they both plan to turn pro later this year and certainly before the next Walker Cup in Summer 2017.

This begs the question of Captain Craig Watson and the other GB&I selectors as to what role, if any, the pair should play in the forthcoming St. Andrews Trophy match. Of course neither would be guaranteed selection at the moment based on their 2016 form and rankings but what’s the point in selecting either of them if they plan to turn pro a matter of weeks after the match ?

ME.

Copyright © 2016, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

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