Tuesday, 01 November 2011
Matthew Southgate   (Getty Images)
Matthew Southgate (Getty Images)

If sitting in 21st place in the Challenge Tour Rankings, just one place away from the highest echelons of world golf, seems like the ultimate pressure-cooker situation going into the season-ending Apulia San Domenico Grand Final this week, somebody failed to tell Matthew Southgate.

The young rookie cut a remarkably relaxed figure ahead of the crucial season finale at San Domenico Golf, in Puglia, Italy.

By Saturday evening, 20 players will be celebrating another huge step towards golfing stardom as the top 20 in the Challenge Tour Rankings by the end of this week’s tournament are rewarded with a place on The European Tour.

They will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson and Thomas Björn by developing into world-class golfers through the gateway of the Challenge Tour.

And Southgate is no different. He does, however, have a job on his hands as he attempts to gain at least one Ranking position with a good finish this week and earn a European Tour card in his first year as a professional.

It may seem like the most nerve-wrecking of situations, but the 23 year old is certainly not fazed.

“It’s just exciting,” beamed the towering Englishman, “there’s no point in getting nervous, that’s not going to help you.

“I'm just working really hard on my game and my caddie and I were out on the course so we know where we’re going on the course, it’s just a case of practicing now.

“It’s only my first year as a pro so it’s been a bit like an apprenticeship, being on the Challenge Tour. Coming into this week in 21st position, I don’t think you’re going to gain any better experience than that.

“I know it’s a bit of a scary place but you’re going to learn a lot, I think it’s the position where you’ll learn the most so I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and seeing what happens.”

In his rookie year, Southgate has already showed magnificent strength of character, not to mention plenty of skill, to earn his place at the showpiece event on the Adriatic coast this week.

Having started his professional career with a respectable tied 39th finish at the Joburg Open on The European Tour, the 23 year old subsequently hit a roadblock.

Six consecutive missed cuts followed and suddenly things were not looking so rosy, but he was determined to carry on and finally earned his first cheque on the Challenge Tour with a 15th place finish at the Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda in June.

Later that month he earned his best finish on the Challenge Tour to date at the Scottish Hydro Challenge, finishing runner-up to Edouard Dubois.

In late July, a tied ninth finish at the English Challenge kicked off a run of five consecutive top 20s which ended with a sixth place finish at the lucrative Kazakhstan Open, which went some way to sealing his berth in the top 45, all of whom play this week with no half-way cut.

“I definitely would have taken 21st at the start of the year, especially after I missed about seven or eight cuts at the beginning of the season, so it’s been superb,” he enthused.

“The only reason I got my category at Qualifying School last year was because I just relaxed and went and played. I know that I play well when I just relax, so there’s no point in putting any pressure on myself now, more than any other week.

“I know I can do it, it’s just a case of what game turns up on the day and that’s why I’m doing the hard work and in my two weeks off. I’ve worked really hard so I’ve given myself the best chance of doing well, so it’s just fingers crossed now.”

There will be many a prayer said this week at a tournament which always produces high drama and much tension.

Mathematically, every one of the 45 players present this week can make it into the all-important top 20 but for two in particular, this week has been made a little less stressful.

Both Sam Little and Benjamin Hebert have already earned their European Tour cards having claimed three victories this year but the Englishman will still be keen to follow in the footsteps of Alvaro Velasco, Edoardo Molinari, Stenson and Björn by winning the Challenge Tour Rankings.

His French counterpart, meanwhile, still harbours hopes of taking to the summit as he currently sits in fifth spot.

There are 14 countries represented this week and Andrea Pavan is certainly a player of local interest as the Italian plays out of the stunning San Domenico Golf course, where the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final is being hosted for the seventh time.



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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1PAVAN, AndreaITA18-17
T3MARSHALL, AndrewENG18-14
T3JOHNSTON, AndrewENG18-14
5EDBERG, PelleSWE18-13
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