Kalle Samooja secured his European Tour status for 2019 by winning the Hainan Open and rocketing to Number Two on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah.
The Finn carded a second successive one under par 71 to post a 15 under par total at Sanya Luhuitou Golf Club, finishing two shots clear of Grant Forrest in second place.
Samooja led from start-to-finish on Day Four but was pushed all the way by Forrest, who was just one shot behind with one hole to play.
However, Forrest was unable to convert a birdie chance on the final hole and Samooja was left with two putts to win. He duly obliged to secure his first European Challenge Tour title, as well as that life-changing European Tour status for next season.
“I’ve been hunting for the trophy for a pretty long time and that’s what made me emotional in the prize giving ceremony,” Samooja said.
“I’ve been close a couple of times and it’s tough to beat all of the guys. Everyone’s hunting for you and holding the lead for the last three days, it’s not easy and it’s also pretty tough mentally.
“It’s huge for me personally. I’ve been hunting for that card for a long time and I think this is the best way to get on the European Tour, by finishing in the top 15 on the Challenge Tour. It’s been a long season and finally I can be sure that I’ll be playing there next year.
“You’ve got to give yourself enough chances and I felt earlier this week that my putter was pretty hot, so I knew that this might be the week if I just kept doing what I was doing.
“Early in the week I couldn’t hold any of the longer putts but I holed all the short momentum putts I needed and it was enough this week.”
With his win in Hainan, Samooja becomes the second Finn to secure their European Tour status via the Challenge Tour this year alongside Kim Koivu and the 30 year old hopes it will consequently pay dividends for Finnish golf.
“I’ve been going for that dream for a long time and now we’re going to have five Finns playing on the European Tour next year,” he said.
“It is really big for a small golfing nation and there’s still Q-School coming up so you never know how many there will be. It’s really nice to join Tapio Pulkkanen on the European Tour and see how I do there.
“I think and hope it will be good for golf in Finland. There are a lot of young players coming up and when they see that we can go through the Challenge Tour – which is a tough route – with me and Kim Koivu this year and Tapio last year, it gives a lot of courage to the other players to try to do the same. I think it’s going to pay off in the near future.”
With his runner-up finish, Forrest has strengthened his position inside the top 15 by rising to seventh and all-but secured his European Tour card for 2019. American Sean Crocker finished third in Sanya, one shot behind Forrest, and has now leapt from 36th to 17th on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah with two events remaining.
Spaniard Adri Arnaus finished tied fourth at the Hainan Open on ten under par alongside Niklas Lemke, who is now 36th in the Rankings, rising 16 places.