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  • Alistair Tait

Who’s Up To The Challenge?

We’re getting down to the nitty gritty end of the season. Squeaky bum time. The next two weeks will determine the class of ’21: the 20 players who graduate to the European Tour from the European Challenge Tour.

This week’s Challenge Costa Brava at Empordà Golf in North East Spain is the penultimate event on the European Challenge Tour. Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia (pictured) leads after a second-round 4-under-par 67 took him to 10 under par, two shots ahead of the field.

Gouveia’s a two-time winner on this year’s Challenge Tour. He’s well placed to regain his playing rights on the main tour. He’s currently second on the money list, the Road to Mallorca. He's just over 20,000 points behind Santiago Tarrio of Spain.

Gouveia knows all about playing on the main tour. He's spent four full seasons on the main circuit, finishing 54th on the money list in 2016. He has just over €2.5 million in earnings.

Matteo Manassero trails Gouveia by four shots at Empordà. The Italian also knows all about playing on the European Tour. The 2009 Amateur champion is a four-time European Tour winner, including the 2013 BMW PGA Championship. He’s banked just over €8.6 million, yet he’s fighting for his survival.

Manassero needs a good week in Spain to qualify for the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final supported by The R&A, 4–7 November. The top 45 players will tee it up at T Golf & Country Club in Mallorca for one of those coveted 20 European Tour cards. The Italian is currently 64th on the Challenge Tour pecking order with 27,864.8 points. Niklas Nørgaard Møller holds the all-important 20th place with 64,485.2 points, a slim 215.1 lead over Germany’s Yannik Paul.

Would be European Tour pros would do well to scan the European Challenge Tour money list from time to time. Many of those who think they’re destined for greatness because they’ve won the club championship, played for the county or been part of an International squad often have no idea just how deep the talent pool is in European golf.

Manassero is not the only example of an Amateur champion struggling to survive in the take no prisoners world of European professional golf. Scotland’s Bradley Neil is 94th. He won the 2014 Amateur Championship at Royal Portrusg. Harry Ellis won the 2017 Amateur at Royal St George’s. The Englishman is 110th. Countryman Scott Gregory triumphed in 2016 at Royal Porthcawl. He languishes in 180th spot.

The money lists includes other European Tour winners besides Manassero, players like Michael Hoey (35th), Pelle Edberg (94th), Gary Stal (111th), Romain Wattel (152nd) and Gregory Bourdy (165th) to name a few.

That’s not to diss any of the above names. As Ian Poulter said recently:

“They’re all good players.”

He’s right, but they’re further proof that reaching, and staying, on the European Tour is no easy task. You can’t blame anyone for trying; the potential riches are colossal. Just look at Manassero’s earnings. Yet those same club champions dreaming of becoming European Tour winners would do well to remember the words of Walker Cup great Nigel Edwards:

“They can’t all be European Tour players.”

Edwards is right. There just isn’t enough room for everyone to have full cards. Those who don’t find themselves on the Challenge Tour with other good players.

It’s going to be fascinating watching the next two week on Europe’s junior circuit. Which players are up to the challenge?

#JustSaying: “I didn’t know how much the prize money was when I played the Mastercard Tour. All I cared about was winning. That takes care of everything.” Ian Poulter

Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the European Tour.

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