Jamie McLeary believes the standard on the Challenge Tour is higher than ever as he prepares to defend his title in the Scottish Hydro Challenge, where Italian teenager Matteo Manassero will make his first appearance.
Twelve months ago McLeary became the first home winner of the event at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club, holding off the advances of 2009 Challenge Tour Rankings champion Edoardo Molinari for the €32,000 first prize. Molinari went on to win the Omega Mission Hills World Cup for Italy with his younger brother Francesco and is now inside the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
“When you look at what Edoardo has done since last summer you get a good idea of what kind of players are coming through the Challenge Tour,” said the 29 year old, who has had two top 20 finishes this season.
“The standard is high and you cannot afford to stand still because people will fly past you in the Rankings. You have to be dedicated to constant improvement and the more Scottish players that experience this level of competition, the more players will be able to break through to the top level.”
The other three winners of this event – Sam Walker in 2006, Robert Dinwiddie in 2007 and Taco Remkes in 2008, have all gone on to earn European Tour cards, something Mcleary is firmly targeting.
“Winning the Scottish Hydro Challenge last season did wonders for my confidence, and gave me the belief that I can get onto The European Tour and compete there,” he said. “Hopefully, I can show that over the coming months and break into that all-important Challenge Tour top 20 come the end of the season to win a place on The European Tour.”
Manassero has burst onto the golfing scene in the last year, winning the Silver Medal at last summer’s Open Championship, making the cut at the Masters Tournament in April and playing his first tournament as a professional, the BMW Italian Open, where he finished tied 29th.
“I am very grateful to have been invited to the Scottish Hydro Challenge and I am looking forward to making my first appearance on the Challenge Tour as a professional,” said the 17 year old.
“Obviously I have great memories of playing in Scotland from Turnberry last year, and I am looking forward to getting back there. I know it will be a different experience on the Challenge Tour, but I know that the standard is extremely high and I will have to be at the top of my game to contend at Spey Valley.”
Rankings leader Dinwiddie will also contest the €200,000 prize fund – one of the most lucrative of the Challenge Tour season – and he will be joined by English compatriots Walker and Charlie Ford. All have tasted success on the Challenge Tour this season, winning the Kenya Open, the ALLIANZ Côtes d’Armor Open de Bretagne and the Turkish Airlines Challenge hosted by Carya Golf Club respectively.
George Murray and Scott Jamieson are two other players hoping to win their maiden professional titles on home soil, and their countryman Paul Lawrie, the former Open Champion, believes the tournament gives Scottish players a great opportunity.
“To have a Challenge Tour event in Scotland, featuring some of the best young players in Europe, gives our home players the chance to gauge their abilities against the kind of competition that they should expect to come up against throughout a career at the top level,” said Lawrie.
“To give our players a sense of that environment can only improve standards in Scotland, and eventually help us get more players competing at the game’s highest level.”
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