Kristof Ulenaers exhibited a remarkable display of frontrunning to secure a convincing five-stroke victory and a sensational debut victory on the European Challenge Tour in the Challenge de Cadiz.
The 22-year-old led the field at Iberostar Real Club de Golf Novo Sancti Petri after every single round in Spain and took a seven-shot lead into the final day. He posted a level par final round of 72 to finish five shots clear of Germany’s Hurly Long who claimed second on 14 under par following a closing round of 70.
The Belgian opened with a bogey at the first but quickly bounced back with a sensational eagle at the second to settle the nerves and distance himself from the chasing pack. However, an uncomfortable middle stage of his round saw him drop several shots including a triple-bogey eight on the par five 11th hole. Ulenaers was able to recuperate, however, adding three birdies on the back nine to claim an astonishing victory on his debut and catapult up to 12th on the Road to Mallorca Rankings.
“It is very special. I still can’t believe it because it has not sunk in yet,” he said. “I think tonight I will feel the victory a bit more because right now it’s all so new. I’m so happy with it. I had a tough time out on the course today around the middle of my round but I managed to pull through.
“I felt very nervous this morning, I’m not going to lie. Out on the course I should have enjoyed it more but I didn’t at all because it was a very hard round emotionally for me. I was nine shots clear at one point but that quickly came to the point where it could have been two. I managed to get myself five shots clear going into the last hole and of course I was comfortable then, but during the round it was very tough mentally and my caddie helped me through it.”
The University of North Texas graduate had a special bond with his caddie, Zach Karkaletsos, who offered vital guidance throughout his round. Karkaletsos finished ninth in the 2017 British Boys Championship as a junior and has since won several local tournaments in Andalucia.
“I think the long par putt I made on three was definitely a putt that I had to hole to keep going and keep my advantage strong,” he said. “After that I found it really difficult, but my caddie Zach tried to talk me out of it and make me more positive. I think my mind was trying to be positive, but my body was not really going with it.
“I topped my tee shot on ten and then hit a three wood about 260 yards to the flag. I had no shot and my caddie tried to talk me out of it but I was adamant I was just going to hit it. Honestly, that was the best shot of the tournament for me. That three wood right there was a game changer. I then made a putt on 13 and at that point I could relax a bit more and finish my round.”
The maiden Challenge Tour champion had received an invite to the Challenge de Cádiz but has now secured his playing rights for next week’s Challenge de España and beyond, and he believes the victory will be life-changing.
“This victory will honestly change my life,” he said. “I was trying to get my Challenge Tour card for next season but to now actually grab this opportunity, it is career-changing for me and I am very happy that I managed to pull this off.”
D+D REAL Czech Challenge winner Santiago Tarrio, from Spain, finished third on 12 under par, while Spaniard Alfredo Garcia-Heredia and Swede Anton Karlsson shared fourth place on 11 under par. Five players shared sixth place on ten under par, including former Challenge Tour Number One Ricardo Gouveia of Portugal.
South African Wilco Nienaber still leads the Road to Mallorca Rankings following his Dimension Data Pro-Am victory, with Tarrio second and Scotland’s Craig Howie sitting in third position.
The Road to Mallorca now remains in Spain for a second week, with the Challenge de España remaining at Iberostar Real Club de Golf Novo Sancti Petri from Tuesday June 15 – Friday June 18.