Welshman Stuart Manley is looking to build on his recent good form by winning at home in the SWALEC Wales Challenge after a season travelling round the world trying to get back onto The European Tour.
He is hoping to follow fellow Welshman Rhys Davies, who won the event at the Vale Hotel, Golf and Spa Resort near Cardiff, Wales, last year and took the chance to play his way into the world’s top 50, playing in The Open Championship and the US PGA Championship less than a year later.
After a slow start to the season, a second place in Switzerland and sixth in the English Challenge, along with a ninth place finish in Majorca on The European Tour, show Manley is getting ready to win and push for a return to the top level.
A new coach and a new putting style are starting to pay dividends for Manley with his first target being to secure a top 10 finish on the Challenge Tour this season to ensure a good ranking in The Race to Dubai next season.
Hosting a Challenge Tour event in Wales offers that opportunity to Welsh players, such as Davies, who had no ranking in Europe last year before winning, but Manley has already tasted life on the European Tour and wants more.
While it is easy to feel under pressure in front of home fans and on a familiar course, Manley feels the best way forward is to treat it as a relaxing week off as he continues to work on his game under new coach Neil Matthews, the national coach for the Golf Union of Wales.
“Of course I would love to follow in Rhys’ footsteps – he has done brilliantly since winning last year,” explained Manley, who has clocked up the air miles to Kenya, South Africa and all round Europe this season.
“I am in a different position as I already have a ranking and am trying to get back onto the main Tour. Winning in Wales, or even a top two or three finish, would be a big step towards that, but I do not want to put myself under pressure.
“Obviously I have played the course a few times before and live half an hour away. It will be nice to sleep in my own bed, which is what will make it feel like a week off.
“Every week has the same kind of opportunities and pressures, so in terms of getting back onto the main Tour this is no different. I am almost trying to play it down and go with the flow, although I am looking forward to it.
“It is nice to play well in front of friends and family. We all look at what Rhys did last year – and since – but he was in a different position because I have got a reasonable position on the order of merit.
“I feel I am beginning to play really well, the changes I have made since working with Neil are really beginning to pay off. I have also changed my putting to a claw grip with a belly putter, and that is working well too.
“Whatever happens this season, I will have a lot more work to do in the winter, but I feel I have steadily improved all the time as a professional so I am still chipping away at it and improving year on year.”
It is the fourth year in a row that the Vale Resort has hosted the event, and the hosts would love to see another Welsh winner.
Giving players, such as Davies and Manley, the chance to make it to the top level to help inspire the next generation of Welsh golfers is a key part of the Ryder Cup Wales Summer of Golf strategy.
“It is thanks to supporters such as the Vale Resort and sponsors SWALEC that we are able to offer such opportunities to Welsh golfers,” explained Ryder Cup Wales Chief Executive, Rob Holt.
“Over the years it is great that the event has been won by Craig Williams, Sion Bebb and Rhys Davies, taking an opportunity to win on home ground which did not exist before the bid to bring the Ryder Cup to Wales.
“We could not hold such events without their help, and we are looking forward to yet another high calibre contest on a course which stretches the professionals fully.”
Alan Williams, SWALEC's Director of Energy Sales, said: “Our partnership with Ryder Cup Wales highlights our commitment to golf development in Wales. The Challenge Tour acts as a breeding ground for golf champions of the future, and to have one of its events here in Wales is a fantastic opportunity for SWALEC to play a part in helping to develop and recognise young talent.”
While Manley is playing as a member of the Challenge Tour, Craig Smith, Kyron Sullivan, Mark Laskey and Tim Dykes have been given invitations to play a number of events on the Challenge Tour, including the SWALEC Wales Challenge, while there will also be a chance for Welsh professionals to qualify for the event.