European pros hone game on Alps Tour

Steve Lewton hopes to play on the European Tour in the near future.

Steve Lewton hopes to play on the European Tour in the near future.

Steve Lewton has fixed crampons to his FootJoys and is scaling a few peaks to try to get his European Tour card.

The 26-year-old Englishman is within sight of the mountain peak as he travels a road less travelled by British pros. Lewton’s mountaineering expedition just might take him to the top.

There are many developmental tours around Europe. All provide a learning ground for those hoping to follow in the footsteps of Ballesteros, Faldo, Langer, Montgomerie, Westwood and Poulter.

Perhaps the best place for Tour wannabees like Lewton is the Alps Tour. This is a 24-event circuit that criss-crosses Continental Europe and North Africa. It takes in seven countries – Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Morocco, Slovenia and Spain.

Prize funds range between 40,000 - 63,000 euros. Entry fee is just 85 euros per event.

Obviously it’s not a tour to get rich on, but it’s an excellent option for those who want to sample what European Tour life is really like. The fact it is held in so many different countries means it resembles the same cosmopolitan diversity of the European Tour.

Tournament fields are melting pots of French, Italian, Swiss, Spanish, Austrian, Belgian, English and players of other nationalities.

Former European Tour winner Raymond Russell has played several events as he tries to regain the game that saw him win the 1996 Cannes Open. Former British Amateur champion (2006) Julien Guerrier has used the Alps Tour as a stepping stone to the European Challenge Tour.

Didier de Vooght of Belgium is another ex-European Tour player trying to find his form on the Alps Tour.

Scan the tournament lists and you’ll see a number of former highly-promising amateurs making the transition from top flight amateur golf to the professional game: Italians Matteo Delpodio and Andrea Perrino, French players Benjamin Hebert and Xavier Poncelet, Swiss players Claudio Blaesi and Martin Rominger, and English professionals like Lewton, Matt Cryer and Matthew Baldwin, to name just a few.

Lewton, Cryer and Baldwin were members of the English Golf Union’s elite squad not too long ago. All three are only in their second year as professionals.

College golf followers will remember Lewton. He spent four years at N.C. State, where he won twice. He was a member of the 2007 GB&I Walker Cup squad and won twice in Australia early that year.

“The Alps Tour is well run,” said Lewton, who is attached to the same English golf club as Ian Poulter – Woburn Golf Club. “The courses are pretty good and the standard is high. Anyone who thinks they can get on the tour and win easily is kidding himself. There are a lot of very strong players.”

Lewton had the choice of staying at home in England to hone his game or packing his suitcase and following the Alps Tour through Continental Europe. He had at least two home options. He could have played the EuroPro Tour or the Jamega Tour in England but opted to head to the Continent.

“My goal is to play on the European Tour one day. I’ll have to deal with different countries, currencies, players of different nationalities, and living out of a suitcase when I get on Tour. Playing the Alps Tour gives me that experience, so it won’t be a huge culture shock when I get on Tour. I feel I’ll be ahead of others who stayed at home in England.”

The 26-year-old Englishman is currently fourth on the Alps Tour order of merit as he plays this week’s event, the Trophee Preven’s in Paris, at the Golf de Bussy Guermantes. He has extra incentive to do well in Paris.

Anyone who finishes top 5 on the money list after this week’s tournaments gets to skip the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School. Lewton has virtually guaranteed himself that free pass. He stands alone in fourth in Paris, just two shots off the lead with one round to go. Better still, most of those chasing his top-5 position missed the cut.

If Lewton holds onto a top-5 position on the money list at the end of the season, he earns a card for the European Challenge Tour next year.

Lewton just might be blazing a trail to the European Tour that other young English players will follow in future years.

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