The tickets have been booked, the new equipment has been packed and the players can almost feel the heat of the equatorial sun beating down on them as the Barclays Kenya Open beckons, heralding the start of the new European Challenge Tour season.
Next week, Karen Country Club in Nairobi plays host to the curtain-raiser for the 2016 Road to Oman, and among many hopefuls in a very strong field are six men with recent experience of how to get the job done on the Challenge Tour.
Matteo Delpodio, Dominic Foos, Tom Murray, Max Orrin, Jack Senior and Clément Sordet all tasted victory on Europe’s top developmental tour in 2015 and they will be keen to build on that experience as they target European Tour spots this year.
The top 15 in the Road to Oman Rankings will earn graduation to the 2017 Race to Dubai at the end of the season, and all six of last year’s tournament winners back for another crack at the big time will know more than most that, while it is no guarantee to success at the year’s end, an early victory could be crucial in their bids to join the top table.
For all but Orrin – whose maiden win came at the very end of the 2014 season – last year’s victories provided career breakthroughs, ones they hope will be watershed moments as 2016 progresses.
All presented notable stories: Foos becoming the youngest winner in Challenge Tour history when, aged just 17, he triumphed at the GANT Open in August; the previous week, Sordet winning in Northern Ireland in just his fourth event as a professional; Delpodio embracing his mother on the 18th green after sealing an emotional victory on home soil at the EMC Challenge Open.
Then there were the two dramatic play-off wins, Murray’s in Ireland against Nino Bertasio, Senior seeing off Robert Coles and Prom Meesawat in Scotland – as tests of nerve, prevailing over extra holes suggests these two have the mental steel required to close out future tournaments too.
All five, plus Orrin – whose victory at the Made in Denmark Challenge made him a serial Challenge Tour winner aged just 21 – will count themselves among the favourites, both at Karen Country Club next week and for the season ahead.
In terms of inspiration, they need look no further than last year’s Barclays Kenya Open, when Haydn Porteous beat Brandon Stone in a play-off (see video below) – both South Africans have since gone on to take maiden victories on The European Tour.