There may be no player in the field this week at the Kazakhstan Open presented by ERG as happy to be back as Duncan Stewart, who will look to ignite his 2018 European Challenge Tour campaign on a course where he has enjoyed success previously.
“I’ve always liked coming to Kazakhstan, it’s nothing like people picture it,” he said. “The course is fantastic, the facilities are great, the hotel is lovely, the food is good and the people are friendly. It’s an enjoyable week to come here, especially when you know a good week here can go a long way to doing a lot of things.”
The 34 year old knows first-hand what the ‘lot of things’ are. In 2016, the last time the Kazakhstan Open was held at Zhailjau Golf Resort, Stewart slowly worked his way up the leaderboard, ultimately finishing in a tie for fourth place at the €450,000 tournament.
With a win at the 2016 Challenge de Madrid already under his belt, the result in Kazakhstan virtually sealed his 2017 European Tour card as the Scot went on to finish tenth in the Rankings.
“I just remember not playing great the first two rounds and getting it around, and then on the weekend, the weather was awful,” he said. “So I just put my head down and went Scottish-mode on it.
“Especially the last day, I played great the last day and it was borderline whether we should have finished or not, but it was great that we managed to get around especially because I played well. It was so cold and so wet, I just kept my head down and didn’t really think about it too much.”
For Stewart, the 2016 success was somewhat of a repeat performance, albeit on a different course. At the 2013 Kazakhstan Open, held at nearby Nurtau Golf Club, which alternates as host venue each year with Zhailjau Golf Resort, the Grantown on Spey native placed second, and narrowly missed out on advancing to the European Tour that season.
Back at the tournament that has been good to him, and with so many Road to Ras Al Khaimah points up for grabs this week, Stewart knows that a shot saved here or there could be all the fuel he needs to resurrect his bid to get back to the European Tour.
“My game has been better than my results have shown, so I’m just waiting for it to click,” he said. “It’s very close to a good week coming, so it’d be nice if it was this week.
“I’m not doing what I was doing two years ago, which was scoring really well even though I wasn’t hitting it that well. I’m actually hitting it better, so if I can play well and just start scoring, this week could go a long way to helping me get back into the mix.”
Those chances of getting into the mix might also be bolstered by his familiarity with both the country and the golf course.
“I think when you travel as far as this, there’s always an advantage to having the experience,” he said. “I probably could have turned up here on Thursday because I know the course, but it’s just nice to get here a bit earlier because of the elevation, the ball goes just this little bit further.”
Amidst all the pressure to perform and the opportunity at hand, Stewart maintains his excitement for the week ahead.
“There’s a bit more atmosphere to this event. It’s one thing where you know if you go out and play well this week, you can pick up more money than you would for winning some tournaments.
“There’s a lot of us that have been here a few times, and as I said I think we all enjoy coming here, it’s a great event.”