With the European Challenge Tour joining forces with the European Tour for the first dual-ranking event in two years at this week’s Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort, Grant Forrest is hoping to maintain his good form in the biggest event on the 2017 Road to Oman.
Three weeks ago it was Turkish delight for the Scot as his share of fifth place in the Turkish Airlines Challenge marked his highest professional finish to date, as well as securing him a spot in this week’s field in the Algarve.
The 23 year old enjoyed a glittering amateur career before joining the paid ranks in October last year and he is keen to capitalise on the inevitable boost a good result can give you as he looks to continue his impressive transition into professional life.
“I’m definitely feeling confident after Turkey,” he said. “I had a top five there and didn’t feel like I putted all that well so it’s good to know I can compete at this level and there are a lot of positives to take going forward.
“It’s changed my outlook for the year because I don’t have a very good category and am slightly relying on invites, so if I can get a few really good finishes it’s a big boost, and two or three good weeks can then change everything for the rest of the season.
“We had a strong field in Turkey a couple of weeks ago, which is very similar to this week’s despite the European Tour element. You’ve got to try to do the same thing and keep it as similar as possible.
“It’s a good set up, perhaps more of a European Tour set up, a bit bigger, a bit busier than the Challenge Tour, so it’s good to get in that environment and it’s going to be a really good week.”
The transition from the amateur to the professional game is notoriously difficult even for the best players but Forrest is quick to acknowledge the benefits of competing on the Challenge Tour last year in preparing him ahead of his first full professional season.
“I was really fortunate last year to play five Challenge Tour events,” he said. “That really opened my eyes and made me realise you have to make lots of birdies out here and that helped me prepare for this year and hit the ground running.
“The scoring is a lot lower but partly that’s because the courses are set up easier. In amateur golf you play on a lot of tough courses in tough weather whereas on the Challenge Tour you have to shoot around 20 under to win every week.
“The biggest difference I’ve found is just the mindset, just to keep making birdies – when you get to three under par you’ve got to target six, seven, eight under, whereas in amateur golf often level par is pretty good.”
Forrest is no stranger to the bigger stages having made his professional debut at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where his tied 41st finish secured him a first pay cheque of almost €25,000.
With this week’s tournament enjoying shared status with the European Tour, there is no shortage of incentive for all players – the €500,000 total prize fund is the highest on the Challenge Tour for 2017, while the winner will secure a European Tour exemption until the end of 2018.
Despite the presence at Morgado Golf Resort of Major Champions Paul Lawrie and Mike Weir, serial European Tour winners Michael Hoey and Alvaro Quiros – both of whom have triumphed in Portugal in the past – and former Ryder Cup star Oliver Wilson, Forrest will not be overawed among elite company.
“Paul is a Major Champion, a Ryder Cup player, but there are all sorts of guys and you just try to learn from them,” he said. “I played nine holes with Oliver Wilson yesterday and he’s a Ryder Cup player, previously top 50 in the world, and we were just chatting to him and trying to learn from the guys who have been at the top levels.
“It definitely helps being around these guys and just keeping your eyes open, seeing how guys who have been there and done that go about their games, and if they’re doing anything different just picking up stuff like that, but it’s a great environment to be learning in.
“It’s also good that there are a lot of Scottish guys out here and I don’t think we get enough credit that we deserve as a country for how many guys we have out on the European Tour and the Challenge Tour.”
As might be expected, the strongest possible Challenge Tour contingent have assembled for the first Road to Oman event in Portugal since the 2015 Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI.
That tournament was won by Roope Kakko who is hoping for a repeat triumph this week, while other familiar faces in the field include eight of the Challenge Tour graduates who earned European Tour cards from last year’s Road to Oman Rankings.
One of the week’s headline draws is 2015 Road to Oman winner Ricardo Gouveia, back on home soil after representing Portugal at last week’s GolfSixes.
Aaron Rai and Ryan Evans, the winners of the two Road to Oman tournaments so far this season and the current top two in the Rankings, will lead the Challenge Tour charge.