After ten years as a professional, Dale Whitnell secured his maiden Challenge Tour victory at the KPMG Trophy in Belgium last week. The Englishman, who finished in a tie for fourth at the Alfred Dunhill Championship on the European Tour in 2009, started this season with only five guaranteed starts but has transformed his fortunes with impressive performances in both Slovakia and Belgium.
From competing on the European Tour to questioning whether he should even be playing the game, Whitnell has experienced the lows, and now, the highs of professional golf. We caught up with the 31-year-old ahead of the Open de Bretagne, as he begins his bid for back-to-back Challenge Tour victories.
How much have you enjoyed the last few days as a Challenge Tour winner?
The last few days have been great. Obviously, I’m really happy to get the win but it still hasn’t sunk in yet to be honest. I’m looking forward to this week, I played here once before maybe seven or eight years ago. I’ve just got to try and put the win at the back of my mind now and get on with trying to put in a good performance this week.
You’ve jumped up to 17th on the Road to Mallorca Rankings. How much is that on your mind heading into the remainder of the season?
It would be a lie to say I’m not thinking about it, it’s hard not to, but it’s important that I now try and keep my perspective and just work towards playing one event at a time. But absolutely my aim is to get into the top 15 on the Rankings and secure my European Tour card for next season.
When you’ve been playing as a professional for ten years, does that make your maiden Challenge Tour victory even sweeter?
It does. I’ve had some real ups and downs in my career but it’s great to finally get the win. To secure my playing rights for at least this year and next year is a big thing as well.
I’ve been playing on a couple of mini tours for the past few seasons. Between 2012 and 2016 I played on the Jamega Pro Golf Tour, and from there I then played on the Portugal Pro Tour. I played well last winter in Portugal and was able to win the Tour Championship which secured me five starts on the Challenge Tour for this season.
Finishing in third place in Slovakia this July was big for me in that it managed to move me into a position on the rankings where I could contend for a place in the Challenge Tour Grand Final and obviously last week made a massive difference.
How have you adjusted to life back on the Challenge Tour?
When you don’t know how many events you’re going to be playing at the start of the season it’s difficult to plan your schedule. I haven’t travelled around Europe playing golf for some years, so it’s definitely taken some time to get back into that routine. I don’t have to worry about starts anymore though which is a big relief!
The strength and depth of the fields have definitely gotten better across all tours and one or two shots now makes bigger difference than when I started out a decade ago, but to be honest, I know my game is good enough to compete at any level.
Was there ever a time over the past ten years you doubted that you would get this win?
Yes, there’s been some very tough times over the past decade and there’s been times in my career when I’ve doubted whether I should even be playing the game. To come back and win this year has been life changing for me, it really has.
My family and friends are absolutely delighted. We’re going to have a little celebratory party when I get home from Portugal next week and soak up this moment.