Belgium’s Pierre Relecom has lauded the Challenge Tour and its benefits to young golfers on the eve of the Telenet Trophy in his homeland.
The 24 year old has gradually risen through the ranks of amateur golf and the Alps Tour, and is in the field this week at Rinkven Golf Club near Antwerp for the €150,000 Challenge Tour event.
Relecom believes events such as this provide the perfect opportunity to learn about life as a professional. “The Challenge Tour is a very good tour,” he said. “You learn and get to know how to manage your career, you learn to travel and to play on different courses in different conditions, you learn about speed of play and how to manage that. And you learn to work with the other players. The atmosphere is great on the Challenge Tour.
“I like to work progressively. I like to learn step by step. Sometimes you see players who play on The European Tour very early and end up coming back to the Challenge Tour. The Challenge Tour is great because you have guys who have lost their cards and are trying to get it back and you can see how they play.
“The level is so high and you see a lot of guys who are on the main tour but play some Challenge Tour events, and you can learn a lot from them. Plus you have the older guys who have been doing this for years and you can learn from all their experience.”
Many players turn professional straight after leaving school and some, such as Rory McIlroy and Matteo Manassero, are European Tour Members before they have even turned 20. But Relecom, who played in the Eisenhower Trophy in 2004, has taken a different route to the professional ranks.
“I studied business and management for five years and did a masters degree in finance in Belgium with one year studying in Spain,” he said.
“The last year I played as an amateur I won the Swiss International and did well in the Omega Masters so I thought I would try as a pro. That was in July 2008. So it’s nearly two years now and it’s been good. Within the first six months I shot 12 under par 60 in an Alps Tour event so that was the highlight. And I made it to the second stage at European Tour Qualifying School and was beaten in a play-off, which was a little disappointing.
“Last year I finished top three on the Alps Tour Order of Merit and played a few Challenge Tour events on invites. I didn’t do too well last year, but I played well in a few Tour de Las Americas events. This year I’m playing mostly Challenge Tour – I’ve played three times so far this season and made the cut every time.
“My goal for this year is to play on invites and make the top 100 on the Challenge Tour Rankings before Kazakhstan, and for the year to make top 80 so I can have a category eight [exemption] for next year and play a full Challenge Tour schedule.
Another Belgian, Nicolas Colsaerts, who has had three top ten finishes on The European Tour this season, is an inspiration for Relecom and his fellow young players.
“Nicolas Colsaerts has been the example for all the Belgian players for the last seven years or so,” he said. “The press have always written about him and raised his profile. He had a spell when he didn’t play so well but everyone has that, and now he’s coming back and doing really well. Hopefully he can perform even better so he can pull the other guys up with him.
“Last year he did really well on the Challenge Tour and won twice so he’s got confidence now. When you have one guy doing well it can pull the others up and encourage them to become pros. Belgium is not a very sporty country. It’s the mentality here – it’s all about your studies and sport is more leisure than a job. So if some Belgian players make it to The European Tour, it’s good because other youngsters will think ‘If he can do it, I can do it’.”
Asked whether he thought he could win the Telenet Trophy this week on home soil, Relecom added: “Anything’s possible. I’d like my putting to be better this week. I’ve worked hard on it the last couple of days, so hopefully if it’s working I can do well here.”