The 25 year old won a European Tour card at the Qualifying School Final Stage in December, but admits he has “learned the hard way” that life on golf’s top tier is tough.Nine missed cuts from nine appearances does not make happy reading for Ritthammer, but he is determined to draw the positives from his experiences and use them to good effect on the Challenge Tour.
In a refreshingly honest appraisal of his campaign so far, Ritthammer admits nothing could have prepared him for the pressures of his rookie season.“It’s been very tough,” said the Nuremburg man. “The courses are not that different from the courses on the Challenge Tour, and the competition is not that much tougher than on the Challenge Tour. It’s everything else that comes with it – the media, more people watching, the attention you get at home. That’s what makes the difference and that’s what has made it tough for me to concentrate on my game.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and every week I was thinking, ‘Now it has to happen, now I have to play really well’.“I anticipated that it would be tough in this way and I tried to prepare for it. But all of a sudden you have something to lose and you can’t really prepare for that feeling. I’ve never really had anything to lose in my career so far, but now I have a main Tour card it feels very precious and like it’s very easy to lose.
“Particularly in category 11, you really have to take your chances. When you don’t do that at the beginning of the year you put more and more pressure on yourself, and every week you think, ‘Wow, now I really have to make some money’.“I thought I’d prepared for it but it hasn’t worked out. I’ve had to learn the hard way. I think it’s something you have to experience and learn from because it’s difficult to prepare. Next time I think I’ll be stronger.”
Ritthammer, who came through the EPD Tour in Germany - winning twice in 2009 to gain a Challenge Tour card through the order of merit - finished tied 25th in last week’s Challenge Provincia di Varese – helped by a six under par 64 in the last round – and will play in the Credit Suisse Challenge next week.
“I’m going to play in the Lyoness Open in Austria next month but apart from that I’ll be sticking to the Challenge Tour,” he said. “I’m disappointed not to have had more starts with my category. But if you play well, you don’t need 40 starts to keep your card. Fifteen starts are enough if you play great golf, and if you’re playing badly you can play 50 tournaments and make nothing.
“It’s very disappointing, but I’m looking forward to building back up again on the Challenge Tour for the rest of the season. The important thing is not to get stuck on the main Tour, because if you’re not performing at that level, in my opinion, you have to take that step back. You need some safety and if you can finish in the top 80 on the Challenge Tour, at least you’re guaranteed a Challenge Tour card for the following season.“You know that if you don’t make it on The European Tour, you still have the Challenge Tour. That’s what I’m doing anyway. There are a couple of guys who aren’t doing that and then all the pressure is concentrated on the Qualifying School, which is such a tough thing to get through. It’s too tough to be going to the Q School knowing you have to play well for any kind of category for the next year.”