The American Challenge Tour stars with stripes

7/30/2013 3:51:00 PM
Phil Mickelson in 1993, the same year he won in his only Challenge Tour appearance ()
Phil Mickelson in 1993, the same year he won in his only Challenge Tour appearance ()
Brinson Paolini’s victory at the Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge last week meant that one third of the 15 tournaments on the 2013 Challenge Tour schedule thus far have been won by Americans. Here, takes a look at the fascinating history of Americans on the tour.

There is a sea change coming on the Challenge Tour and it has become all too evident in recent months how seismic the shift, as America’s finest up and coming golfing talent begins to choose Europe’s top developmental tour as the ideal starting point in their professional careers.

While this influx is a relatively recent development, former US Amateur Open Champion Peter Uihlein proving the figurehead after his emergence on the Challenge Tour led to a career-changing victory at the Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI, there is certainly a long and fascinating history of Americans on the tour, including one very notable winner…

Phil Mickelson

While it would be beyond tenuous to stake a claim in the five-time Major Champion as a product of the Challenge Tour, his name is there in black and white forever more as a winner on the tour.

In 1993, Mickelson was a fledgling young pro straight out of college. Already a PGA Tour winner, having won an event as an amateur, the Californian was hot property and found himself at the EuroDisney Resort in Paris by way of an invite to the Tournoi Perrier de Paris.

With such big ambitions, Mickelson may well have treated his Challenge Tour debut as a 'Mickey Mouse tournament' but, true to his proud and competitive nature, he only went and won the thing, beating another future Major Champion Steve Elkington.

Incredibly, that remained his only professional win on European soil until his Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open victory earlier this month, which proved a dress rehearsal for his splendid maiden Open triumph at Muirfield.

Alongside Darren Clarke (who won the 2003 Benmore Developments Northern Ireland Masters as a special guest invite), Mickelson will forever be engraved in Challenge Tour folklore for his incredible cameo appearance.

Ron Stelten

While Mickelson might well be the most notable American winner on the Challenge Tour, he was not the first and that honour went to Ron Stelten.

Stelten claimed the Rolex Pro-Am title in the inaugural year of the Challenge Tour, 1989, before lifting the same trophy in 1992 - a tournament which, incredibly, is still going in the guise of the Rolex Trophy, the oldest event on the schedule and one of the most prestigious.

Stelten went on to play several seasons on The European Tour, his best result a tied fifth finish in the 1990 Madrid Open - which was won by Bernhard Langer – before a brief stint on the Senior Tour, where he could not make as significant an impression.

Stelten now runs a golf school at Taos Country Club in New Mexico, America.

Kevin Carissimi

Remarkably, Carissimi held the record for the most wins by an American on his own until 2013, when Brooks Koepka joined the Californian on four Challenge Tour victories.

In a long and distinguished career on the Challenge Tour, Carissimi won four events in three separate seasons, claiming two wins in 1998 before suffering what he called the “biggest blow” of his career by narrowly missing out on European Tour promotion that very season.

The man from Sacramento, who was known to have embraced European culture with open arms, made up for that disappointment though when in 1999, he claimed his fourth and final title, the BIL Luxembourg Open, before going on to claim the 11th European Tour card at Qualifying School Final Stage.

Unfortunately, Carissimi did not enjoy the same success he experienced on the Challenge Tour on the top tier but he still holds on to the joint record of most wins on the tour by an American, alongside Koepka.

Kevin Stadler

The son of former Masters Champion and 13-time US PGA Tour winner Craig, Stadler entered the professional world with plenty of expectation on his shoulders and it was the season of 2006 in which he really lived up to his billing.

It all began in December of 2005, when he won the second tournament of the 2006 Challenge Tour season in Argentina.

That proved the springboard for great success, winning the Johnnie Walker Classic on The European Tour two months later to earn an exemption for the following two years.

The good times kept coming for Stadler in 2006 as he achieved two victories in the second tier of American golf to earn an exemption on the US PGA Tour, meaning he was spoilt for choice.

He decided to continue his career on home soil and has since become an experienced US PGA Tour player, just missing out on his maiden title to Ryan Moore in the 2009 Wyndham Championship.

Rich Beem

Another Major winner to make a cameo appearance on the Challenge Tour – although not as successfully as the aforementioned Mickelson and Clarke – Beem was invited to bring some glamour to the 2013 Gujarat Kensville Challenge.

The 2002 US PGA Championship winner finished tied for 15th place in India, where home favourite Shiv Kapur was victorious, and also provided some laughs for the local fans during tournament week when he joined cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar for a novelty putting challenge.

The new breed…

Uihlein, Koepka and Paolini have all proven in recent months that the voyage across the Atlantic to Europe can prove the perfect start to a professional career.

Uihlein’s victory in Madeira was the ultimate vindication of his decision to take the plunge on the Challenge Tour and take on new courses, new countries and new cultures, while Koepka has spoken openly about how such diversity has improved him as a player and as a man.

Paolini already looks like another star in the making to follow his decorated young compatriots, both of whom have recently received invitations to play in the 2013 US PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, and with many other Americans battling out week-in, week-out on the Challenge Tour, that trend is sure to continue.

American wins on the Challenge Tour

Surname Christian Name Country Year Tournament
BAKER Chris USA 2010 Moroccan Golf Classic
CARISSIMI Kevin USA 1996 Perrier European Pro-Am
  1998 Diners Club Austrian Open
  1998 Öhrlings Swedish Match Play
  1999 BIL Luxembourg Open
DOBBS Kyle USA 2005 Costa Rica Open 2005 American Express presented by BETonESPORTS.COM
GARBERO Gregory USA 1997 Öhrlings Swedish Match Play
HAEFNER Kevin USA 2005 Summit Panama Masters
HAINLINE Craig USA 1997 Perrier European Pro-Am
KAMMANN Scott USA 2002 Open des Volcans
KOEPKA Brooks USA 2012 Challenge de Catalunya
      2013 Montecchia Golf Open Presented by POLAROID
      2013 Fred Olden Challenge de España
      2013 Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonalds by Hotels and Resorts
MICKELSON Phil USA 1993 Tournoi Perrier de Paris
NELSON Brian USA 1992 Gore-Tex Fabrics Challenge
PAOLINI Brinson USA 2013 Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge
RAULERSON Charles USA 1993 Open Jezequel
  1993 Gore-Tex Fabrics Challenge
STADLER Kevin USA 2006 Abierto Visa de la Republica 
        presented by Bridgestone
STELTEN Ronald USA 1989 Rolex Pro-Am
  1992 Rolex Pro-Am
SUTTERFIELD Brad USA 2005 TIM Peru Open 2004
      2005 Open de Toulouse