The European Tour and the European Challenge Tour join forces for the Aa St Omer Open this weekend, the first dual ranking event of the season.
With the US Open Championship taking place at Shinnecock Hills in New York, the Aa St Omer Open is one of the ‘Majors’ of the Challenge Tour Schedule due to the increased prize fund of €400,000 and the presence of former European Tour winners such as England’s Warren Bennett, Sweden’s Michael Jonzon, Miguel Angel Martin of Spain and Ireland’s Philip Walton.
Walton for one, is hoping to secure a first Tour win since his victory at Murphy’s English Open in 1995 – the year he sank that winning put in The 31st Ryder Cup Matches at Oakland Hills.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Walton. “It should be a good event I can hopefully find some form again and get moving up the Challenge Tour Rankings.
“I played my first Challenge Tour event in Denmark a couple of weeks ago, and the standard of golf out there impressed me – I think we will see a lot of these young players doing well, and St Omer is the perfect opportunity for them.”
For Scotland’s Greig Hutcheon, the Aa St Omer Open represents an outstanding chance to return to The European Tour. The 31 year old feels ready to mount a serious challenge in St Omer after finishing joint 17th at the Diageo Championship last weekend.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” said Hutcheon. “It is a very big event for the Challenge Tour players and one of the tournaments on the Schedule that all of the players look towards. The rewards are big for the Challenge Tour players, with an immediate exemption to The European Tour.
“I’m playing well at the moment – I did well at Gleneagles last weekend, apart from my bogey-bogey finish, and I can take some confidence from that performance. I changed putters recently and have been putting quite well with the new one, and that is something you have to do at the Aa St Omer course.
“I remember last year the conditions at St Omer being quite windy, and that would suit me after the week we had at Gleneagles last weekend.”
Last year Australian Brett Rumford won the title, his first on The European Tour International Schedule, with an impressive wire-to-wire victory to earn a valuable one year exemption to The European Tour. The man from Perth led from the outset after opening with a course record 64 before adding rounds of 70-68-67 for a 15 under par total of 269, five strokes clear of England’s Ben Mason.