All 50 leading players from the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex are participating in this week’s DP World Tour Championship. Among them, are a breadth of remarkable individual achievements – perhaps none more so than within the 13 debutants in the field.
The fifth and final Rolex Series event of the 2023 DP World Tour campaign represents a great opportunity to highlight and reflect on those journeys over the past 12 months.
From players making their first visit to Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai after several years on Tour to those making the step at the first time of asking after graduation from the European Challenge Tour or Qualifying School, there is no shortage of notable accomplishments.
But it is perhaps the story of Daniel Brown, who this time last year had only ever made one appearance on the DP World Tour, that truly highlights the platform and opportunity open to players.
This time last year the Englishman was nearing the climax of the Final Stage of Qualifying School, arguably the toughest test in golf.
Across six rounds, a 156-strong field compete for 25 DP World Tour cards. Life-changing is a term often used in sport. It is no exaggeration here. Just ask Brown.
After just missing out on graduating from the Challenge Tour last year, he finished third at Qualifying School to secure his playing privileges on the DP World Tour for the first time.
Despite having not played on the Tour for more than seven years, he adjusted to the step up in standard with aplomb. Across his first 13 appearances of the year, he made the cut in each and secured two top ten finishes during that time.
After time earlier in his career playing on the EuroPro Tour, his big moment came at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics as he secured an impressive wire-to-wire victory in Northern Ireland.
Silverware was much more than he could have hoped for at the outset of his campaign.
“My goal for the start of this year mainly was just keep a card, really,” he told the DP World Tour.
So, how has he found adjusting to becoming a first-time winner on the DP World Tour?
“All of a sudden you head up the Rankings… There's always something to keep your mind ticking over and concentrate on and have something to strive towards,” he added.
“The win was unbelievable, and it still hasn't really sunk in yet that I've won. But it obviously gave me a great platform to get here [DP World Tour Championship] as well.”
What makes his achievement of finishing in the top 50 on the Rankings all the more remarkable is that due to his category status on the DP World Tour, he missed the first three Rolex Series events and the big points on offer.
Another player coming to the end of a season to remember is Daniel Hillier.
The New Zealander graduated from the Challenge Tour at the end of last year and has since gone on to elevate his game as another of the 17 first-time winners on the DP World Tour so far this season.
One of four graduates from the Challenge Tour to win on the DP World Tour this season, the 25-year-old went eagle-birdie-eagle in a three-hole stretch late on the back nine of the final round to win the Betfred British Masters hosted by Sir Nick Faldo.
Since then, he has recorded a further four top 20s, three of which have come in his last four starts – a stretch of form that leaves him 29th on the season-long standings.
Following this week’s event, the top ten players, not otherwise exempt, on the Rankings will gain PGA TOUR exemptions, while maintaining their DP World Tour status. A good performance at the Earth Course could earn him dual status – something which was far from his radar at the outset of 2023.
“It's been an amazing year,” Hillier reflected. “If you'd told me at the end of the season that I'd be in with a shot at getting a PGA TOUR card and being a DP World Tour winner, I would've probably laughed at you.”
Leading the race to finish as the top Challenge Tour graduate of the year, Hillier attests his good form in part to the support of countryman Ryan Fox.
“Obviously I'm away from home a lot and having that home support has been really great and having Foxy here as well has been a big help in finding my feet,” he said.
“I've got a lot of good people around me that have helped me get through the year and hopefully I can finish it off.”
While Brown and Hillier are establishing themselves on the DP World Tour, fellow first-time DP World Tour Championship appearance-maker Sepp Straka is among the world’s leading golfers.
On his Ryder Cup debut six weeks ago, the 30-year-old Austrian contributed a point from his three matches to help Team Europe regain the trophy in Italy.
As one of ten members of the European Ryder Cup team in the field in Dubai, Straka is relishing the chance to be in action as he goes in search of a second win of the year after winning his second PGA TOUR title at the John Deere Classic in July.
“Whatever momentum I had [after the Ryder Cup] is probably gone, but I've been practising the last two weeks pretty hard and getting my game in shape and I think it's in a pretty decent place," he said.
“Seeing all those Ryder Cup guys has definitely helped relive some of the memories from that week.”
As if playing in his first Ryder Cup wasn’t enough, the World Number 24 has also enjoyed his best year in the Majors, with a tie for second at The Open another personal highlight.
Reflecting on what has enabled him to make this next step in his career over the past 12 months, he added: "Consistency and ball-striking is probably the big difference between this year and last year.
"I had good results last year, but this year I have done it on a more regular basis."
While all three players are at a different stage in their careers, when they each tee it up on Thursday they will do so with the common goal of bookending their campaigns with another memorable chapter.