Friday, 16 December 2016
Joel Stalter  (Getty Images)
Joel Stalter (Getty Images)

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The most nervous wait in golf? For Joël Stalter, nothing will ever be tougher than the final afternoon of the season-ending NBO Golf Classic Grand Final.

The 2016 Road to Oman drew to its conclusion with 16 European Tour cards on offer, and the Frenchman arrived in Muscat in 15th spot before a poor second round, coupled with a strong start from Pep Angles, meant he had slipped into the 16th and final Race to Dubai position heading into the last day.

Out early, all the 24 year old could do was post a score – his battling 68 left him on four under par overall – and hope it would be enough, but events out on course were not going his way.

Adrien Saddier, his compatriot, was on the charge, making five birdies and an eagle to move into third place – enough to climb into the top 16.

Meanwhile Jens Dantorp, who knew that only victory would suffice, was also on fire, stepping onto the 18th tee in a tie for the lead as Stalter’s European Tour dreams were left hanging by a thread.

He somehow found the courage to watch the closing action from next to the final green at Al Mouj Golf where he saw first-hand just how kind, and how cruel, golf’s fortunes can be.

Both Saddier and Dantorp found the greenside bunker and failed to get up-and-down, each dropping their first shot of the day on their last hole – and in the process, dropping narrowly out of the top 16, meaning Stalter had just about held on to earn his European Tour card.

“I’m just wiped out right now with the emotions of everything,” he said immediately after his European Tour graduation was confirmed. “I’m trying to realise what I’ve accomplished this year and I’m feeling incredible.

“It’s been an incredible journey. In many ways it’s been very tough, but there’s great moments like winning in Sweden and graduating today – they were probably the top two moments of my life.

“I learned this year that one shot is everything, and today was the proof of that because it came down to one shot for two guys, it’s just the way these things go, and it’s going to be like that for my whole career.

“You have to fight for every shot because one shot can mean everything and you might not know it – you have to rise to those challenges, know that it’s going to be tough, but that’s the most important thing I’ll take from this year, that one shot means everything.”

Stalter’s season was built on his consistency – he did not miss a cut until the middle of July – and his top 16 position was underpinned by a maiden Challenge Tour victory in the Swedish Challenge hosted by Robert Karlsson.

That preceded a tie for sixth in the Rolex Trophy and a top five at the Bridgestone Challenge as he went into the final stretch of the season in a strong position – though only just strong enough as it turned out in Oman.

Joel

“The key moment was definitely the win in Sweden,” he said. “I started the season really well but I wasn’t quite getting the results I wanted – I had a lot of top 15s and got up to about 30,000 points quite quickly but I was kind of stagnating.

“That big week in Sweden gave me the confidence that I could win and do it, and win in a play-off. Then good results at the Rolex Trophy and in England and I was right up there, but the last few events have so many points on offer.

“The key on the Challenge Tour is to putt well. It’s tough, it’s such a competitive tour – it’s probably one of the most competitive tours in the world, just because there’s more and more good players and you have to shoot really low to win.”

Having started playing golf at the course next to his parents’ restaurant at the age of seven, it was not until towards the end of his time studying at the University of California that Stalter started to think of golf as a career – though now he is adamant that what he has already achieved is merely the beginning.

Joel

“I didn’t really think about professional golf until my last two years of college,” he said. “My first dream was just to go to college in America to study and play golf, because I loved golf, and then in the last two years we had such a great team that I thought I would try to do that for a living.

“The Challenge Tour is just a step. It’s great, and obviously I really needed it, but I don’t want to stop here. I want to play in The Ryder Cup in 2018 in France, that’s now the goal, I want to be a winner on the European Tour, I want to get into the top 50 in the world and later maybe even World Number One – I haven’t done anything yet, the best is still to come.”

These statements are said without a trace of arrogance, just a remarkable self-belief that was also evidenced by his revelation post-tournament in Oman of a note he had been carrying in his wallet since the same time the previous year.

It simply read: “I am going to win on the Challenge Tour and earn status on the European Tour in 2016!” – with such an accurate forecast, who would bet against him teeing it up for Thomas Bjørn’s European side at Le Golf National in 2018?

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