Ahead of the 2019 European Challenge Tour season getting under way, we take a look at the hottest stars from Europe’s four satellite tours.
First up is 2018 Nordic Golf League Number One Aksel Olsen.
Olsen became the first Norwegian to top the Nordic Golf League Order of Merit since Morten Hagen managed the feat in 2005. The 26-year-old narrowly missed out on a Challenge Tour card 12 months ago as he finished sixth in the NGL Rankings by 62 euros/points. However, he made sure he would be playing on Europe’s top developmental tour in 2019 as he earned two wins on the way to clinching top spot.
The Norwegian started the year in blistering fashion by winning the second event of the season at the PGA Catalunya Resort Championship during the Nordic Golf League’s Winter Series. He was tied at the top with Joel Sjöholm at the conclusion of the final round and beat the Swede on the second extra play-off hole.
The winning formula nearly returned three months later as he finished fifth at the Willis Towers Watson Masters before taking a share of second place at the Stora Hotellet Bryggan Fjällbacka Open two weeks later.
Back-to-back top tens came soon after, as Olsen began to ramp up the pressure amongst the top five on the Order of Merit. A tied fourth finish at the Gamle Fredrikstad Open was followed with a share of ninth at the SM Match.
With eight events to play, including the Freja Final Series – the last four events on the Nordic Golf League – Olsen shone the brightest, showing why he deserved his Challenge Tour card.
The Norwegian took a share of sixth place at the Åhus KGK ProAm 2018 before missing the next event to play Made in Denmark on the European Tour where he finished tied 17th. He returned to NGL action by claiming successive runner-up places and took third in the opening Final Series event.
After nine top tens, including one victory, the winning recipe was cooked once again as he claimed the Race to Himmerland title. Brimmed with confidence he finished second at the season-ending Tourfinalen hosted by Barsebäck Resort to lift the Freja Final Series title and take the Number One position on the Nordic Golf League Order of Merit.
2018 Nordic Golf League graduates: Aksel Olsen (Norway), Jacob Glennemo (Sweden), Benjamin Poke (Denmark), Marcus Helligkilde (Denmark), Martin Eriksson (Sweden).
Introducing Santiago Tarrio Ben, the 2018 Alps Tour Number One.
Tarrio Ben became the second successive Spaniard to top the Alps Tour’s Order of Merit, following in the footsteps of Adri Arnaus. The 28-year-old will hope to be as successful as his compatriot, after Arnaus graduated to the European Tour in his rookie season on Europe’s top developmental circuit.
It was a slow start to the season for Tarrio Ben, who finished tied 32nd and tied 19th in the opening events of the year in Egypt. However, the Spaniard picked up his first professional win on the Alps Tour in his next event, to kick-start his season.
Rounds of 67-68-68 saw him clinch a three-shot victory at the Gosser Open in Austria, signalling his move up the Order of Merit.
A share of 28th place in Guadeloupe and a missed cut at the Alps de Andalucía looked to have dented Tarrio Ben’s progress, but he bounced back immediately by lifting his second title of the season in his next event at the Open de la Mirabelle d'Or.
That five-stroke victory in France saw him become the first multi-winner of the campaign as held the top spot in the Rankings for the rest of the season. Following his wins, the Spaniard added a further five top tens to his name, including runner-up finishes in France and Italy to take the Alps Tour crown, following the conclusion of the 2018 Alps Tour Grand Final.
With a Challenge Tour card guaranteed, Tarrio Ben won the European Tour Second Qualifying Stage at Las Colinas, but his journey to the world stage will have to wait at least one more season as he missed the cut during the Final Qualifying Stage.
2018 Alps Tour graduates: Santiago Tarrio Ben (Spain), David Borda* (Spain), Alexandre Daydou (France), Louis Cohen Boyer (France), Marcus T Mohr (England), Andrea Saracino** (Italy).
It’s been quite the year for Craig Howie. The young Scot only joined the paid ranks in January 2018 but he is now the proud holder of a full European Challenge Tour card after winning the Pro Golf Tour Order of Merit.
The 24-year-old, although in the infancy of his professional career, has vast experience in the amateur game having won the Scottish Boys Championship in 2012, the Scottish University Championship in 2016 and was part of the victorious Scotland team in the European Amateur Team Championship during the same year.
Howie has now transferred that success to the professional game and showed great consistency in his maiden season, securing eight top tens which included three runner-up finishes and one life-changing victory.
He set the ball rolling with a tied second finish in only his second event – the Red Sea Ain Sokhna Classic – and a tied eighth place at the Open Casa Green Golf a fortnight later.
The Scot’s maiden triumph came at the Leipziger Golf Open in August where he defeated countryman Chris Robb in a play-off to move to the top of the Order of Merit and place one hand on a Challenge Tour card.
With only three events remaining of the season, Howie’s victory came at the ideal time and, as it transpired, his place on the Challenge Tour was assured by finishing as the Pro Golf Tour’s Number One for 2018.
2018 Pro Golf Tour graduates: Craig Howie (Scotland), Jonas Kölbing (Germany), Mathieu Decottignies Lafon (France), Chris Robb (Scotland), Mateusz Gradecki (Poland)
Finally, we take a look at 2018 EuroPro Tour Number One Dave Coupland.
Coupland is one of five Englishmen to earn playing privileges on the European Challenge Tour via the EuroPro Tour, with the Lincolnshire man topping the Order of Merit last season.
The Englishman had nine top ten finishes in 2018, including a victory either side of his only missed cut of the year at The Pentahotels Championship.
His first win was at The Ablrate.com Championship, defeating countrymen Joe Dean and Richard Mansell by one shot before again defeating Mansell, this time by two, at the IFX and Winged Boots Championship as he moved to the top of the Order of Merit.
The 32-year-old signed off with a runner-up finish at the season-ending Tour Championship, three shots behind fellow graduate Nick McCarthy.
Coupland is no stranger to the Challenge Tour having played on Europe’s second tier in 2014 and 2015, securing three top tens in his first full season and two in his second.
After turning professional in 2012, his best finish on Europe’s top developmental tour was a tied second place at the 2014 Turkish Airlines Challenge, two shots behind Welshman and winner Oliver Farr.
He’s already proved he has what it takes to contend on the Challenge Tour, so Coupland will head into the 2019 season with confidence after a stand-out year on the third tier.
2018 EuroPro Tour graduates: Dave Coupland (England), Nick McCarthy (England), Billy Spooner (England), Joe Dean (England), Mark Young (England).