As 2016 draws to a close and we continue to look back over another thrilling European Challenge Tour campaign, thoughts also turn to the year ahead, and who might star on the Road to Oman in 2017.
Through the Challenge Tour Rankings and the Final Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School, a large number of talented faces earned European Tour graduation this year, but who looks set to take their place next season? We profile a few of the contenders.
Darius van Driel
The Dutchman enjoyed a solid first campaign on the Challenge Tour this year and looks perfectly primed for an assault on the Rankings in 2017.
Six top tens this season, including a tie for second in the Vierumӓki Finnish Challenge, helped the 27 year old to 34th place on the Road to Oman and earned him a place representing his country at the World Cup of Golf last month alongside 2006 graduate Joost Luiten.
After a solid showing at Melbourne’s Kingston Heath Golf Club – the Dutch duo finished in a tie for 17th – van Driel remained in Australia to secure his highest ever finish on the European Tour as he came tied sixth in the Australian PGA Championship.
Now comfortable with life on the Challenge Tour, and buoyed by impressive recent showings in big tournaments, van Driel looks likely to be featuring high on the leaderboards once again next season.
Already an established name to Challenge Tour fans, it is very easy to forget that Foos is still only 19 years old, and likely to be one of the youngest players on the Challenge Tour once again next year.
The German announced himself when he won the Gant Open in 2015, becoming the Challenge Tour’s youngest winner in history as he went wire-to-wire at Finland’s Aura Golf Club.
Much was therefore expected of Foos in 2016 and he was starting to show signs of his best form with a runner-up finish in Northern Ireland and a tie for sixth at the Rolex Trophy in August.
Sadly a wrist injury then prevented him from playing again all season but, after a long period to rehabilitate and hone his game, Foos will be keen to make up for lost time once the 2017 season comes around.
Another 19 year old – he is just six weeks older than Foos – who has already given notice of his great potential, Kinhult will be better set to contend next season after a challenging 2016 campaign.
The Swede first appeared on the golfing radar when, still an amateur, he reached the top end of the leaderboard at the Omega European Masters in 2015, ultimately finishing in a tie for tenth.
A few months later and he came through Q-School to earn a European Tour card for the 2016 season but, now a professional, he struggled to transfer his best form to those bigger stages, making just two cuts in his first 11 events of the year.
In the summer he decided to play on the Challenge Tour, immediately securing a top ten finish in the Made in Denmark Challenge – Presented by Ejner Hessel, and strong late season performances – tied sixth in the Hainan Open and tied fourth in the Ras Al Khaimah 2016 Golf Challenge – will fill him with hope for the coming year.
England’s Stow started 2016 with no Challenge Tour status but soon discovered the optimum way to keep a place on the Road to Oman: play well.
The 25 year old finished in a tie for fifth in his first event of the season, the Red Sea Egyptian Challenge Presented by Hassan Allam Properties, which earned him a spot in the following week’s Challenge de Madrid – where he duly finished runner-up.
Consistency was the key to his season as he missed only two cuts all year, while a tie for seventh at the Najeti Open and a shared second place in the Swedish Challenge hosted by Robert Karlsson took him towards the top of the Road to Oman Rankings, and in with a chance of graduating.
Ultimately Stow fell just short, not quite managing to secure the big finish he needed in one of the late-season’s lucrative events, but his position of 22nd was mightily impressive, and an indication of even better things to come.
A Nordic League player at the start of the season, Ovesen was given invites into some Challenge Tour events over the summer and quickly showed signs that he could thrive at that higher level.
A third place in the Bridgestone Challenge was followed a fortnight later by a tie for fourth in the Volopa Irish Challenge hosted by Mount Wolseley Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort as the Dane secured full Challenge Tour status for 2017.The 25 year old had another top ten in the Hainan Open to take 58th spot in the Rankings and, after making nine cuts in just 12 starts this season, he will be looking forward to the 2017 Road to Oman with confidence.