Tait’s Take: European Tour Rookie of the Year race will go down to the wire

Giorgio Maiozzi/EPA-EFE

Tait’s Take: European Tour Rookie of the Year race will go down to the wire

Euro Tour

Tait’s Take: European Tour Rookie of the Year race will go down to the wire

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The Race to Dubai isn’t the only sprint to the finish over the remaining three tournaments of the 2019 European Tour season. There’s a pretty good contest to see who’ll become the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, too.

Kurt Kitayama, Robert MacIntyre, Adri Arnaus and Guido Migliozzi wouldn’t have featured on my list of possible contenders to follow in the footsteps of future stars like Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Martin Kaymer, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Sandy Lyle and Nick Faldo.

I was really only familiar with one member of that quartet, the man currently out in front: Scotland’s MacIntyre.

I covered the left hander in amateur golf, and his attitude impressed me. MacIntyre grew up in Oban on the Scotland’s west coast and his first love was shinty, which is probably where his gritty outlook comes from. For those not familiar with the Gaelic sport, it’s not for shrinking violets. The 23-year-old sometimes practices with his local team, Oban Camanachd, when he’s not on the road.

In 2016, he nearly became the first left-hander to win the British Amateur Championship only to finish runner-up to England’s Scott Gregory at Royal Porthcawl.

He was even more impressive the following year when he defeated Cameron Champ in singles play in the 2017 Walker Cup. Champ’s colossal length didn’t faze the Scot. He ran out a 6&4 winner in the first singles session and then halved with Champ on Sunday when the match had already been decided.

It was no surprise when MacIntyre attained his European Tour card by finishing inside the top 15 of the 2018 European Challenge Tour money list. I figured he’d have a good chance of keeping his card this year, but I didn’t see him reaching ninth on the Race to Dubai, his current position. Nor did I see him racking up three second place finishes, sixth in the Open championship and fourth in the Italian Open.

The only thing missing from MacIntyre’s year is a W. It would be a shame if he were to win the rookie award and not record a victory.

Kitayama doesn’t have that problem. He notched two early wins this year, the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open and the Oman Open, to guarantee his tour status next year. He’s been on bonus time ever since.

The Chico, California native went quiet in the summer but has two top fives in his last three events, third in the Italian Open and fourth in the French, to move to 14th on the Race to Dubai with a chance to become the first American since Koepka in 2014, and third overall along with Peter Uihlein in 2013, to become Rookie of the Year.

Kitayama certainly punches above his weight. He only stands five foot six inches but ranks sixth in driving distance, averaging 311.91 yards per drive. Like Koepka and Uihlein, Kityama’s future lies on the PGA Tour, but the former UNLV player will certainly have left his mark in Europe when he moves back home for good.

Arnaus is bidding to become the sixth Spaniard, and first since Rahm two years ago, to take the rookie award. Like MacIntyre, he has three runner-up finishes this season. He also has two other top 10s, which explains why he’s 35th on the money list.

He might also have his sights set on the PGA Tour. Arnaus spent four years at Texas A&M.

Migliozzi can match Kitayama in 2019 wins. He secured 2020 tour status by winning the Magical Kenya Open in March, then added the Belgian Knockout title in June. It adds up to 42nd on the Race to Dubai for the Italian who learned his craft playing the Alps Tour in Europe.

MacIntyre and Kitayama are clearly the favorites to fight it out for best newcomer. However, with three tournaments worth a combined $22.5 million left to play, this race is wide open. Who’s your money on?

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