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The Graduates: New year, new goals

The Graduates: New year, new goals

Promotion to the DP World Tour from the European Challenge Tour represents a momentous achievement on the journey of a professional golfer.

At the end of each season, the top 20 players on the Road to Mallorca Ranking earn promotion to the DP World Tour. Players who finish inside the top 45 heading into the final event of the campaign, the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final supported by The R&A, are all capable of reaching the top 20 if they win or finish high in the tournament – which has been the site of many dramatic moments over the years.

For some it happens in the formative years of their career, while for others it comes after setbacks and provides a fresh chance to prove they belong at the top level of European golf.

Ahead of the Ras Al Khaimah Championship - the final event of the Desert Swing - we caught up with four members of the latest crop of 20 ambitious and determined Challenge Tour graduates.

Recovering from tough learnings on a previous experience of life on the DP World Tour to dealing with high expectations are all under discussion in the first episode of the second series of The Graduates, a season-long insight into the Challenge Tour’s Class of 2022.

Nathan Kimsey

Victory at the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final supported by The R&A saw the Englishman win the Road to Mallorca Rankings last year.

In doing so, he became the 11th English Challenge Tour Number One and first since Jordan Smith in 2016 as he regained his full DP World Tour playing privileges for the first time since 2017.

“When I had my card beforehand, I was a deer in the headlights and just wasn’t ready to be out here,” he said. “I was a bit out of my depth. It was good because I have got that experience to look back on going into this season.”

Kimsey earned his spot on the DP World Tour for the 2017 season after coming through all three stages of Qualifying School, however he was unable to retain his card as he could only manage one top-ten finish.

Since having the honour of hitting the opening tee shot at the Joburg Open in November, the 29-year-old has not missed a cut in his first eight events and registered three top 15 finishes.

Kimsey admits “everything just clicked” in his game last year on the Challenge Tour, creating a self-confidence that is invaluable as he sets out on his quest of establishing himself at this level.

“I have come out here and my game is just ready to compete at this level,” he added.

Bryce Easton

The South African made his first DP World Tour appearance in 2011 but this year he is competing with full playing privileges for the first time in his career.

A closing par in the final round of the Challenge Tour Grand Final sealed a runner-up finish in Spain and a top-20 finish on the season-long Road to Mallorca Rankings.

Easton, a three-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, was clearly emotional in his post-event interview after earning his DP World Tour card.

“There was an overwhelming sense of relief,” he said. “I was grateful that it worked out for me this time and hopefully I can kick on from here.”

Easton has made a promising start to the 2023 campaign, finishing in 22nd place at the Alfred Dunhill Championship on home soil in December.

“That is what professional golf is like for most of us,” he said. “You work so hard to get to the next level but there is so much more work to be done. All I have done is given myself a seat at the table.”

Tom McKibbin

Hailing from the same part of Northern Ireland as four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy brings its own challenges.

The 20-year-old is the youngest golfer from the isle of Ireland since McIlroy to hold a DP World Tour card but insists he is not fazed by the comparisons.

“If I ever need to ask him anything I feel fairly comfortable to reach out and ask him a question,” said McKibbin, who played alongside McIlroy in a practice round ahead of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.

The Northern Irishman turned professional at the age of 18 and a year later he recorded eight top-ten finishes on the 2022 Road to Mallorca to secure his DP World Tour card.

“It's pretty cool to be compared to some high-ranked players,” he added. “I have become so used to it over the years, hearing it since I was young, that it doesn’t put too much pressure on me.”

After three top 20s in his first three starts this campaign, the 2015 World Junior champion, underlined his potential as he held the 36-hole lead at the Singapore Classic before settling for 12th place.

“I am very proud to be out here right now and seeing where I can get to,” he said.

Tom McKibbin-1444750398

Todd Clements

Another player in his rookie DP World Tour season is Englishman Todd Clements, who finished in 16th place on the 2022 Road to Mallorca Rankings.

Among his highlights last year was victory in the Irish Challenge at The K Club, venue of the 2006 Ryder Cup.

Ahead of the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, the 26-year-old took on the Jais Flight, the world’s longest zipline at Jebel Jais adventure park, and he is eager to make the most of being part of the DP World Tour family.

“Coming away just gives you a mental release,” he said. “You can let go and just be Todd rather than a golfer.”

The 2017 English Amateur champion admits he is still coming to terms with his new surroundings but is relishing the opportunity he has worked so hard to earn.

“I am learning the ropes, embracing what is to come,” he said. “There are going to be some challenges, I know that.”

In his first seven DP World Tour starts in the 2023 season, he has missed just two cuts but is yet to threaten over the weekend – something he will look to put right when he makes his Magical Kenya Open debut next week.

The Graduates will see us follow all the highs and lows from the Challenge Tour’s Class of 2022 as they strive to keep their DP World Tour status.

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