Challenge Tour graduates in for a reality check

Edoardo Molinari

The class of 2012 is in for a reality check.

Twenty-one players left Italy and the Apulia San Dominica Grand Final, the last event on the European Challenge Tour, flying high after gaining cards for the 2013 European Tour. It won’t be long before they’re brought back down to earth. A look at this year’s European Tour money list will do just that.

The Challenge Tour has proved a fantastic apprenticeship for many European Tour winners. Thomas Bjorn topped the 1995 Challenge Tour money list and has gone on to win 13 European Tour events. Henrik Stenson was top of the Challenge Tour tree in 2000 and has won six times on the main tour. Sweden’s Johan Edfors won the money list in 2003 and had three victories on the main tour in 2006. More recently, Edoardo Molinari won the money list in 2009 and then won twice on the main tour in 2010 and made his Ryder Cup debut.

However, for every success story there are tales of woe. Of the 23 players who have finished the season atop the Challenge Tour money list, 12 haven't won on the main tour.

The class of 2011 hasn’t fared too well on the main tour this year. Only five of the 20 players who won cards from last year’s Challenge Tour are currently inside the top 115 of the European money list, the magic number for retaining a card for next year’s European Tour. England’s Matthew Baldwin is the highest ranked of the 2011 Challenge Tour graduates. He took the 10th card last year and is currently 69th on the European money list.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s Challenge Tour Order of Merit. He currently stands 120th on the European money list and is facing a trip to the Qualifying School unless he climbs inside the top 115. Italy’s Andrea Pavan, a former student at Texas A&M, finished second but is currently 154th on the main tour. England’s Sam Walker is 147th despite finishing third on last year’s Challenge Tour.

At least those three players have been given a chance to keep their cards. As top-10 players on last year’s Challenge Tour money list, they’ve been able to play a fairly full schedule. Fleetwood has played 30 events on the main tour this year, with Pavan and Little playing 27 events each.

As for those who finished from 16-20 on last year’s Challenge Tour money list, their appearances on the main tour have been few and far between. Italy’s Allessandro Tadini took the 20th card and has only played eight tournaments. Chris Gane of England finished 19th and has only played seven times.

Gane and Tadini would have played more had they performed better earlier in the season. Players ranked lower down the Challenge Tour money list are re-ranked along with Qualifying School graduates at a certain point in the season.

So while this year’s Challenge Tour graduates may have left Italy with a deep sense of satisfaction, much work lies ahead of them. Will they follow in the footsteps of Bjorn and Co., or tread the paths taken by unknowns such as Neil Briggs, Giuseppe Cali and David R. Jones, Challenge Tour money list winners who never even got a sniff of victory on the main tour?

Only time will tell.

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