As the end of the decade approaches, we reflect on a defining time for the European Challenge Tour. Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka are just two of the big names to graduate from the circuit over the past ten years, but that’s not all the era will be remembered for. Here, we take a look back at 11 unforgettable moments.
The beginning of Brooks
Brooks Koepka may now be a household name across the world, but long before he became World Number One, he was mastering his craft on the Challenge Tour.
That did not stop his Challenge Tour career from being extraordinary, however, with the four-time Major Champion earning three victories in a seven-event stretch in 2013. His crowning moment came at the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, where he defied brutal conditions to surge to a three-shot victory and secure his European Tour card courtesy of the three-win rule.
Following his victory, the American said: “This is only the beginning…”
Fleetwood seals promotion
Tommy Fleetwood announced himself as the next big thing in 2011 with a dramatic victory at the lucrative Kazakhstan Open, with it sealing his promotion to the European Tour. A 20-year-old Fleetwood, who arrived on the Challenge Tour tipped for stardom following an illustrious amateur career, closed out his maiden win with a 30-foot birdie putt on the 72nd green. He went on to win the Challenge Tour Rankings that season, becoming the youngest player in history to do so, aged 20 years and 290 days.
Hat-trick hero Hebert
Benjamin Herbert earned automatic promotion via the three-win rule not once, but twice, during the early part of the decade.
After claiming three wins in 2011, he returned to the Challenge Tour in 2014 and put together yet another impressive season.
After tasting victory earlier in the year in Norway and Brittany, he arrived at the season-ending Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final assured of his place on the top tier, but with the possibility of improving his exemption category. The Frenchman made no mistake, finishing five shots clear of compatriot Jérôme Lando Casanova to claim an emphatic third win of the season.
He remains the only player in Challenge Tour history to win three titles in two separate seasons.
Kim makes history
Minkyu Kim etched his name into the record books as the youngest winner in European Tour and Challenge Tour history by lifting his maiden title at the 2018 D+D REAL Czech Challenge aged 17 years and 64 days.
The Korean beat Dominic Foos’ Challenge Tour record by 283 days, covering his back nine on the final day at Golf & Spa Kunětická Hora in just 30 strokes to charge past his closest challenger, Sebastian Söderberg, and claim a three-shot victory.
At 17 years and 64 days, he eclipsed the previous European Tour record of 17 years and 188 days set by Italy’s Matteo Manassero at the 2010 CASTELLÓ MASTERS Costa Azahar.
An’s record breaking campaign
Kim was not the first young Korean star to move the needle on the Challenge Tour, with compatriot Byeong-hun An also enjoying an illustrious debut season on global golf’s proving ground. The current World Number 41 turned professional to plenty of fanfare after winning the 2009 US Amateur Championship and highlighted his huge potential at the 2014 Rolex Trophy.
Starting the final round seven shots off the pace, he reeled off a string of birdies in an eight under par final round to secure his place in Challenge Tour history as the first Korean-born winner. He went on to graduate at the end of the season before becoming the first Asian player to win the BMW PGA Championship in 2015.
Detry goes low
When you open with a 12 under par round of 60 you know you are in for a special week. That was certainly the case for Thomas Detry, who crushed the field, and Challenge Tour records, at the 2016 Bridgestone Challenge.
Playing in just his tenth career start, the Belgian cruised to a 12-shot victory, the largest winning margin in Challenge Tour history which shattered the previous record of ten shots, set by Brooks Koepka in 2013.
In addition, his 29 under par winning total was enough to match the lowest under par score recorded on the Challenge Tour, helped by a closing round of 63.
His stunning wire-to-wire victory helped him secure his European Tour card at the end of the season, with the up-and-coming star making every Challenge Tour cut in 2016.
Few things in golf can beat recording golf’s magic number, the coveted 59. Nicolo Ravano did exactly that at the 2016 Challenge de España, holing his approach shot on the 18th for an eagle two and a place in golf’s most elite group.
By doing so the Italian became only the second player in the history of the European, Challenge and Staysure Tours to card a 59, after France’s Adrien Mörk achieved the feat in 2006. The duo have since been matched by Oliver Fisher, who recorded the first sub-60 round on the European Tour at the Portugal Masters in 2018.
Meronk in pole
Adrien Meronk made history twice in 2019, becoming the first player from Poland to win on the Challenge Tour and the first Polish player to earn a European Tour card.
While he wrote his name into the record books with victory at the 57˚ Open de Portugal @ Morgado Golf Resort, the 26-year-old secured his European Tour card by putting together the most consistent season of all the 2019 Challenge Tour graduates, recording an impressive ten top ten finishes throughout the year.
The fastest graduate
Kristoffer Broberg’s Challenge Tour career can be best described as short and sweet. His crowning moment came at the 2012 Rolex Trophy where he holed a 40-foot birdie putt at the last to become the fastest graduate in history, earning three victories in just five starts.
The Swede’s title blitz began on just his second Challenge Tour appearance at the Finnish Challenge, a win he followed up a week later with a second title in Scandinavia, at the Norwegian Challenge. Within five starts of his debut Broberg had wrapped up his European Tour card with an unforgettable long putt in Switzerland.
Incredibly, Broberg returned to the Challenge Tour later that season for the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Challenge hosted by Royal Golf Club where he claimed his fourth win in six appearances, a record that is yet to be surpassed.
Jordan Mixed Open
The Jordan Mixed Open presented by Ayla was a milestone moment for the European Tour, marking the first time that men and women have competed alongside each other over the same course for the same prize fund.
The first-of-its-kind event featured players from the Challenge Tour, Staysure Tour and Ladies European Tour, with the 123-player field teeing up from different tees in a single mixed field.
The drama at Ayla Golf Club could not have been scripted, with Ladies’ star Meghan MacLaren, the Challenge Tour’s Daan Huizing and two-time Staysure Tour winner Paul Streeter making up the final group and battling for the inaugural prize.
Dutchman Huizing was ultimately the man who rose to the occasion, clinching the title in an epic final day battle with the Ladies European Tour player.
ISPS Handa World Invitational
The Challenge Tour was again at the forefront of the European Tour’s drive for innovation in 2019, with a men’s and women’s field assembling under one banner to compete for two equal prize funds at the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women, Presented by Modest! Golf Management in a first-of-its-kind event on European soil.
Featuring some of the biggest names from both the Challenge Tour and the women’s game, the tournament, championed by international popstar Niall Horan, saw two winners crowned within moments of each other, with Englishman Jack Senior and local favourite Stephanie Meadow lifting the respective trophies.