Local lads Stuart Manley from Aberdare and Barry’s Kyron Sullivan are among a strong contingent of Welsh golfers bidding to emulate The European Tour’s latest rising star, Rhys Davies, this week.
Manley and Sullivan tee up in the SWALEC Wales Challenge at The Vale Hotel & Spa Resort, the venue which propelled Davies towards a fourth place finish in the final European Challenge Tour Rankings last season.
Davies edged out England’s James Morrison at the third hole of a play-off last year to capture the SWALEC Wales Challenge on home turf, and that triumph will act as an inspiration to the next generation of Welsh players bidding for stardom.
After a slow start to the season, a second place at the Credit Suisse Challenge in Switzerland and sixth in the English Challenge, along with a tied eighth place finish in last week’s ECCO Tour Championship, serve to illustrate Manley’s improving touch in his bid to 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 climb from his current position of 26th to within the top 20 and a ranking on The European Tour in 2011.
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. “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.”
Meanwhile Sullivan will also be staying at home this week – but he will spend part of the time sharing his humble abode with a television crew from BBC Wales!
The 34 year old, who is one of a cluster of competitors this week attached to the Resort, is the subject of a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary to be broadcast throughout Wales one evening. He said: “The TV crew will be spending two or three days shadowing me as part of the documentary, so I am looking forward to that.
“However, most importantly, I am looking forward to spending time at home and being people and a venue close to my heart. I’ve been attached to The Vale since 2002 and the whole Resort has grown and flourished into a major sports facility in recent years.
“I missed the cut last year and didn’t play the previous two seasons as it clashed with the Russian Open, so I can’t wait to try to follow in the footsteps of Craig Williams, Sion Bebb and Rhys, who have all won on home soil.
“It would be perfect to have another Welsh winner so close to The Ryder Cup being staged close to Cardiff in a few weeks time. I think we are all benefitting from The Ryder Cup being played in our own back yard and the economy gets a major boost as well.”