As the next generation of German golfers prepare to tee it up at the Bad Griesbach Challenge Tour by Hartl Resort in just two weeks’ time, their compatriot Max Kieffer is adamant that he has the Challenge Tour to thank for the development he has seen in his career since turning professional.
The event being played in the heart of Bavaria is making its debut on the Challenge Tour schedule from July 4-7, and is the first to be played in Germany since the Vodafone Challenge won by Scotland’s Richie Ramsay in 2008.
Kieffer claimed his European Tour card thanks to a 14th place finish in the 2012 Challenge Tour Rankings, a position built on an opening victory at The Gujarat Kensville Challenge in the first event of the season before three further top ten finishes during the rest of the year ensured his qualification.
So far this year, the young German has enjoyed an impressive rookie season on the European Tour, having got his campaign off to the ideal start with a tied fourth finish at The Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS HANDA at Royal Durban GC last December.
Kieffer also came within touching distance of a maiden European Tour title at the Open de España, where he eventually lost in a record-equalling nine hole play-off to Raphaël Jacquelin at Parador de El Saler, Valencia in April, in the process producing the April Shot of the Month when he holed from off the green in spectacular style to extend his dual with the Frenchman when all had seemed lost at the third extra hole.
Last week, Kieffer made his professional debut at the BMW International Open at Golfclub München Eichenried, just 120 kilometres west of the Hartl Resort, and the support he received from his home galleries – not to mention the attention he garnered from the German media – was testament to how far he has come since his Challenge Tour days.
“It’s a new world when you come to The European Tour,” explained Kieffer. “Everybody around you is saying that you are good enough when you come from the Challenge Tour, but you still want to prove it to yourself so it was important for me that I played well in those first events this season because then I felt like I belonged out here, and it was good for the self-confidence.
“Similarly it was a lot different when I went from amateur golf to the Challenge Tour, not golfing wise, but just everything that is around it. The courses are a bit tougher and every week you are playing for something, every Euro counts towards the Ranking, and every position you get in a tournament counts too, which is different to amateur golf. But you just have to get used to it, as it is still just a game and you can only do your best.
“For me, I probably wouldn’t have been good enough if I would have made it straight through Tour School, so the Challenge Tour was a very good learning experience, and for me it was the perfect step in my career.
Kieffer eventually finished in a tie for 35th at the BMW International Open, although it had looked like it might be better after an opening round of 68, but it was yet another solid performance for the man from Düsseldorf, who was impressed by the levels of support he received this past week, even if he admits the game still has some work to do in his homeland.
“Golf still needs to grow a little bit in Germany,” admitted the early Rookie of the Year contender. “But I think we are improving, and it was a great event last week so thanks to BMW, they put on a great tournament.
“You can see from the spectators on Sunday morning as I played in the rain, there were still plenty of people out there, which is proof that golf in Germany is getting bigger every year, but it is a step by step process.”
A country’s success in any sport is only as good as its youngsters, the next generation to carry the mantle of those who came before, and while it is still early days for Kieffer on The European Tour, he would be honoured to act as an inspiration for those playing the game, many of whom will be teeing it up at the Hartl Resort in July.
However, he remains admirably level-headed and is aware that there is still plenty of work to do if he is to inspire a generation of golfers, just as two-time Masters Tournament Champion Bernhard Langer and former World Number One and 2010 US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer, motivated him.
He said: “I might not do yet, but if I can become an inspiration one day to the next generation that would be a great honour.
“Golf is a great sport and I think everybody should try it, and when there is a player like Martin (Kaymer), or myself, from your own country you have a bit more of a relationship to the sport through those players, so I think it is important that we keep having German golfers on The European Tour.”It remains to be seen if anyone teeing up at Hartl Resort will go on to match the feats of Langer or Kaymer, but Kieffer is certainly ideally placed to do so after a successful grounding in professional golf on the Challenge Tour.