Byeong-hun An will provide the inspiration for the cream of the European Challenge Tour’s 2015 crop this week as the top 40 in the Road to Oman Rankings battle it out in the ROLEX Trophy hoping to put their names on the prestigious trophy alongside the rising Korean star.
Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia, the current Road to Oman leader, will head a truly international field which comprises players from no less than 17 different countries including such nations as New Zealand, Thailand, South Africa and the USA.
All of those present this week will not be short of motivation from last year’s victor, An, who made history by becoming the first Korean to win on the Challenge Tour after a superb three-shot victory over the 2011 winner of the exclusive event at Golf Club de Genève, Benjamin Hebert.
It began a meteoric rise for the 23 year old as he cruised through the ranks after graduating from Europe’s top developmental tour at the end of last year, rising to within the top 50 in the world at one point last month, soon after his career-changing victory in May’s BMW PGA Championship.
In The European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth Club, the son of two former Olympians blitzed the field with a flawless final-day 65 to march to a commanding six-shot victory.
That winning temperament first became evident in Geneva last year when he came from seven shots back heading into the final day to card an incredible eight under par 64 in tough conditions and storm to a three-shot triumph.
Indeed, after his maiden European Tour victory at the BMW PGA Championship, An credited his immediate success in the big league to his time on the Challenge Tour.
“It definitely helped me on the road to winning this event,” he said back in May. “I worked hard. I tried to enjoy it, every single event.
“It evidently did help me, I think I could not have done this without playing The Challenge Tour the last three years. It definitely got me prepared. All year I played great this year and it got me ready for this big main Tour events.”
Those words will no doubt provide plentiful inspiration for the 42-man field – the top 40 in the Road to Oman as well as two other invites - in Switzerland this week as they all chase the lion’s share of the €230,000 prize fund.
Thai Prom Meesawat will be hoping to become a second Asian winner of the event in as many years, while Sebastian Gros, placed second in the Road to Oman, is the biggest hope to follow in the footsteps of fellow Frenchman Hebert, whose win four years ago was his third of the season – earning with it automatic graduation to The European Tour.
Coincidentally, Hebert’s successor in the ROLEX Trophy’s winner’s enclave, Kristoffer Broburg, also earned the Swede a fast-track to the top tier courtesy of his third victory of the 2012 season here.
Welshman Rhys Davies and Spaniard Nacho Elvira are the only two who can repeat that achievement this week having both earned two titles already this season.
Jens Dantorp, the second of two Swedish winners in the last three years, will be aiming to become the third player in the tournament’s history to lift the trophy a second time – after Spain’s Carl Suneson (1995, 1999) and Stuart Little (1994, 2001) of England - and he is joined by six other compatriots hoping to continue their nation’s strong form at this event.