Thomas Björn is one of the greatest players to come from the Challenge Tour and has since been one of its strongest advocates. On the tour's 25th anniversery, the 'Great Dane' tells us how close it is to his heart and how it is a vital cog in The European Tour machine...
Thomas Björn has reached some of the headiest heights in world golf, but the great Dane has never forgotten where he came from.
Björn is one of the strongest proponents of the European Challenge Tour, and a man who has personally supported tournaments in his native Denmark.Maybe it is the fond memories he harbours from his stunning season on the Challenge Tour in 1995, when he won three times en route to winning the Rankings and earning his place on The European Tour.
Perhaps it is his dedication to improving standards in the game and the virtue of breeding the stars of tomorrow in the best possible environment.Or maybe it is a sense of responsibility to European golf, as the Chairman of The European Tour’s Tournament Committee, to unearth the finest talent from the continent and across the globe.
Certainly, any mention of the Challenge Tour to the 42 year old and one thing is abundantly clear – his loyalty to the tour does not just come down to his business acumen or his role within the tour. It goes a lot deeper.“The Challenge Tour lies close to my heart, it always has,” he said. “It was a huge stepping stone in my career and I always believed that it’s important to continue to try and help grow this tour. It’s the breeding ground for what we professionals do.
“There has always got to be a tour that provides for players and develops them into strong European Tour players.“There’s a massive step from amateur golf to professional golf. When you’re an amateur you always have federations and people behind you, and then when you step in to the professional game it becomes a different kettle of fish and you have to start doing things on your own.
“This is a great place to do it because it’s not too complicated, but you’ve got to find your way around the world, you’ve got to learn to be on your own and deal with things on your own.
“Off the golf course there’s nobody else, just you. It’s a big part of life as a professional and it’s the best place to learn it.”The learning process can often be a long and difficult one, and while Björn took two seasons to really get to grips with the Challenge Tour, his talent and potential soon became clear for all to see.
His first professional win came, fatefully, in Denmark, at the Himmerland Open before another win on home soil soon after and a third in England elevated him to the top of the Challenge Tour Rankings, where he finished the season as the towering man from Silkeborg earned his first season in the top tier.The rest, as they say, is history as Björn became the greatest player in Danish history and one of the most successful of the many great Challenge Tour alumni since the tour’s foundation in 1989.
Since Björn blazed this trail, Denmark has produced a number of talented players, including Søren Hansen who, coincidentally, also won the Himmerland Challenge on the Challenge Tour in 1998 en route to following Björn on to The European Tour and becoming Denmark’s second Ryder Cup player in 2008.The country had a record number of Challenge Tour graduates last season as Andreas Hartø, JB Hansen and Morten Orum Madsen all made the step-up to The European Tour.
They are now looking to follow in the footsteps of Thorbjørn Olesen, who has gone on to greater things since graduating from the Challenge Tour, winning the 2012 Sicilian Open on The European Tour and reaching the top 40 on the Official World Golf Ranking.“There are some real prospects in Danish golf at the moment,” said Björn. “But I think you see that everywhere and certainly on the continent.
“There’s a big battle going on between the countries to produce new players and get people on to The European Tour and the smaller countries are getting stronger and stronger and that just helps the Tour to grow.”
It could be said that the success of Danish golf is in part down to Björn’s support for the vision of the Challenge Tour.That vision points only one way – to the future.