Gary Stal stunned the world of golf last weekend when he overcame World Number One Rory McIlroy and two-time Major winner Martin Kaymer among others at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but his nerveless victory will have come as no surprise to fans of the Challenge Tour.
It is Where Heroes Are Made and this young Frenchman was certainly a made man on Europe’s second tier long before he proved his undoubted talent on the world stage with that marvellous victory in the Gulf.
Stal arrived on the Challenge Tour in 2012 with plenty of expectation on his young shoulders after a stellar amateur career which included a remarkable eight-shot victory at the 2011 French Amateur Championship.
It did not take long for the Lyon man to make an impression on the professional circuit, claiming a maiden victory in just his fourth Challenge Tour start as a professional at the Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda, before adding to that a month later when beating his compatriot Alexandre Kaleka in a thrilling play-off at the Swiss Challenge.
It came as no surprise, then, when Stal stated after his Abu Dhabi triumph that he felt calm and confident, even as the final round came to a tense climax which thrilled the spectators. He was clearly putting his Challenge Tour experience to good use on the biggest stage of all.
“I always enjoyed playing on the Challenge Tour,” said Stal. “It is a good test of your game, and it has helped me a lot on The European Tour.
“You need to learn how to play well when you are travelling around the world, and it helps you get used to that and helps prepare you for the next level.
“It is very good to play on the Challenge Tour as it prepares you very well for life on The European Tour. It is a very good school.”
Stal is following in the footsteps of numerous young Frenchmen to emerge from the Challenge Tour and go on to great success on The European Tour.
One of the breakthrough stars of the 2014 season, Alexander Levy, is a proud alumnus of Europe’s top developmental tour, having played a full season in 2012 before rising to The European Tour via the Qualifying School and going on to claim two victories last year.
Julien Quesne was another Gallic star who emerged from the Challenge Tour, graduating in 2011 after a season which yielded a second career victory, before going on to add to his trophy haul on The European Tour with victories at the 2012 Open de Andalucía Costa del Sol and the 2013 Open d’Italia.
Grégory Bourdy was also a fully-fledged Challenge Tour Member before proceeding to lift four European Tour titles in a stellar career thus far, while Romain Wattel announced his name on the world stage when he won on the second tier in 2011 as an amateur.
With The Ryder Cup making its debut in France in 2018, the Challenge Tour is continuing to produce the country’s stars of the future.