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England’s first winner: Neal Briggs

England’s first winner: Neal Briggs

The European Challenge Tour has produced a long list of Major Champions, Ryder Cup stalwarts and European Tour winners since its inception in 1989 and that Roll of Honour was started by one man; Neal Briggs.

Neal Briggs

Briggs won the first-ever Challenge Tour event, the 1989 Open dei Tessali, the first of two career Challenge Tour victories for the Newcastle-born player, who now works for the European Tour as a Tournament Administrator and Referee.

A final round of 67 saw him finish two shots clear of local player Emanuele Bolognesi at Riva dei Tessali Golf Club, in a field that also included future two-time Ryder Cup winner Costantino Rocca, to become the Challenge Tour’s first victor.

The victory helped Briggs wrap up the inaugural 1989 Challenge Tour Order of Merit and subsequently regain his card on the European Tour, while also becoming the first in a distinguished line of English players, including Tommy Fleetwood, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, and Lee Slattery, to top the Rankings.

“You drove from event to event in those days, found a hotel once you got there and then tried to suss out the golf course once you arrived,” said ‘Briggsy’, as he is affectionately known by his colleagues.

 “You’d bring your own range balls and there wasn’t a player lounge or any courtesy cars, things that the players might expect today.

“I guess it seems quite basic now but at the time, I was in my early 20s and travelling around Europe. It really felt like living the dream.

“We’d start our season on the Safari Tour, which took place in Nigeria and East Africa, and then the European season began around May. The Italian Federation played a big role in the Challenge Tour in those days, so you’d perhaps be out in Italy for eight or nine weeks of the year.”

In the current day and age, prize money is paid straight into players’ bank accounts however that was not the case when Briggs earned his first winner’s cheque.

“At that time, a few pounds would equal a lot, perhaps millions of Lira, and I remember after I won, my envelope of winnings must have been three or four inches thick.

“Even in those first few years, the Challenge Tour was the place to begin your career if you wanted to make it to the European Tour. I remember playing with Jamie Spence, Thomas Bjørn and Rocca, just to name a few, but that was how a lot of the well-known European Tour players got their break.”

Since Briggs recorded the first English Challenge Tour win in 1989, there have been over 120 English winners on the Challenge Tour, including Eddie Pepperell, Ian Poulter, Fleetwood.

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