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Thursday, 13 February 2014
The 2013 Challenge Tour Graduates  (Getty Images)
The 2013 Challenge Tour Graduates (Getty Images)

What does it really take to graduate from the Challenge Tour? As the countdown towards the Challenge Tour’s 2014 season gathers pace, europeantour.com's Nick Totten took a closer look at the performance of last year’s top 15 to come up with a few keys to success that this season’s crop would do well to replicate ahead of the 2014 season.

Like any year, 2014 will see yet another influx of wide eyed enthusiasm and unwavering optimism on to European golf’s second tier, as the latest crop of professional golfers hope that this will be the season that their golfing dreams align in one glorious union.

Nothing new there, but in this statistical look at what made last year’s graduating class tick we believe we have come up with a list of keys to success of which the current next generation would be wise to take heed.

Numbers and statistics are, after all, the lifeblood of this great game, and we think that what we’ve uncovered should be just the ticket for anyone looking to make that all hallowed top 15 come season’s end.

Now, pay attention class…

(1)    Win, win, win

No one can forget Brooks Koepka’s three-time victory blitz to start the season in 2013, taking the spoils a trio of times from just ten starts as he achieved instantaneous promotion to The European Tour.

To make the top 15 though, three wins was by no means essential, but victory certainly helped. Of the other 14 players graduating to European golf’s top table, eight of them won last season, four of which did so on multiple occasions.

Throughout the season those who eventually filled the graduation spots in fact accounted for 15 of the 25 tournaments victories, with a further six coming from those inside the top 30, proving that victory can go a long way to ensuring a strong Rankings finish in 2014.

(2)    Consistency is King

While winning certainly made things easier, it wasn’t the complete be all and end all last year, as proven by one José-Felipe Lima. The man from Portugal made his experience count in 2014, notching up as many top ten finishes as anyone – eight to be exact – five of which saw him finish as high as the top three.

That’s some going and saw the 32-year old, who makes his home on the western outskirts of Paris, eventually finish second on the Rankings list. However he was not the only man to show great consistency in 2014.

Korea’s Sihwan Kim also failed to collect any silverware from 22 starts throughout the past season, but eight top ten finishes also helped him graduate to the European Tour in 12th place.

Rounding out the trio of golfers achieving eight top tens, Rankings winner Andrea Pavan who, while also winning twice, showed that great consistency is the key to any successful campaign on the Challenge Tour.

(3)    Pick your weeks, and pick them well

Looking down the list of graduates from this season past, it is clear to see a couple of players who certainly made sure they played well at the right time, and more importantly, at the right tournament.

Robert Dinwiddie finished 12th in the Rankings come season’s end, but of those in the graduating berths it was the Englishman who had the highest Stroke Average (71) and lowest Average Position (54) of those who are now plying their trade on The European Tour.

However, he picked his weeks to show his best form, finishing fourth at the dual-sanctioned Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open and in a tie for fifth later in the season at the lucrative Kazakhstan Open, both of which, alongside a runner-up finish at the Open Côtes d'Armor Bretagne, saw him graduate for a third time.

Also benefitting from a timely run of form - namely the lucrative end of the season run - were Spaniard Nacho Elvira, who won the Foshan Open in China, and Johan Carlsson, who triumphed in Kazakhstan. Both results propelled their respective victors right into contention for their European Tour cards, an opportunity that they grabbed with both hands.

(4)    Number crunch

Having pawed through the various numbers, trends and stand-out figures from the graduating class of 2013, it is clear what is needed to succeed on the Challenge Tour.

Here is a little raw data that this season’s golfers would be wise to be aware of, if only as a guide.

Top 15, 2013

- Averaged one win, one runner-up and four other top 10s
- Averaged 18 starts, making 14 cuts
- Stroke Average of 70.16 with an average position of 33rd
- Average money earned of €102,726

In Total:

- 15 wins, 16 runner-ups, four thirds and 55 other top 10s

15-30, 2013

- Less than half had a win, averaging 0.4 wins as well as 0.8 runner-ups, and two other top 10s
- Average 20 starts, making 15 cuts
- Stroke Average of 70.76 with an average position of 42nd
- Average money earned of €61,444

In Total:

- Six wins, 12 runner-ups, 5 thirds and 31 other top 10s

Proof, if it were required, that top three finishes really matter on the Challenge Tour if a player is to make waves, with the top 15 players accounting for 35 top threes throughout the season versus the next 15’s 23 podium places.

Those players finishing between 15 and 30 on the Rankings have had a good year, but it is by fine margins that the graduating class is decided each year.

To summarise, our advice to those players about to embark on a Challenge Tour campaign in 2014 is thus – win, if you can’t do that then finish in the top three as often as possible, pick the weeks you wheel out your best form wisely to maximise your money earned, and beyond all of that, be as consistent as possible.

Simple really.

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