Five Irish players have made the trip to South Africa which will become the 51st country to host a Challenge Tour event when the Limpopo Championship gets underway on Thursday.
The tournament previously featured solely on The Sunshine Tour schedule, with homegrown player JC Ritchie clinching the title in 2019.
The Limpopo Championship will commence a three-tournament swing through the African nation, which also includes the RAM Cape Town Open and the Dimension Data Pro-Am and there’ll be no shortage of Irish involvement.
Gavin Moynihan is the headline act of Ireland’s travelling stars. The Dubliner has been familiarising himself with golf in South Africa this January after playing all four rounds of the South African Open in Johannesburg before claiming a tie for 34th at the Eye of Africa PGA Championship.
The 25-year old is set to focus mainly on the Challenge Tour this year but will be guaranteed some starts on the European Tour through the course of the 2020 season.
With the European climate not lending itself to winter golf, the Challenge Tour starts early with the Limpopo Championship marking the first of 25 events this season.
Another who’ll hope to feature heavily this year is Michael Hoey who enjoyed a really nice start to his Challenge Tour season last year before his form fizzled out on the Main Tour.
The ever-green 40-year old won the Amateur Championship in 2001 before turning professional a year later and has five European Tour wins to his name as he continues his journey into another season this week.
— Michael Hoey (@MikeHoeyNI) January 28, 2020
Another experienced campaigner returning to the Challenge Tour this year is Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney who earned his promotion to the second tier of European golf through Q-School last year.
After grinding his way through the EuroPro Tour circuit, this season presents a major opportunity for the 31-year old who hopes his experience will help him open doors to his ultimate goal of European Tour membership.
“I’ve been there before,” he said. “I’ve played Challenge Tour for years, I think this is my 10th Tour School so it’s not like it’s my first go around. Obviously, it’s great relief to have a bit of status secured but it’s not necessarily new.”
It won’t be new for Tramore’s Robin Dawson either who’ll hope for a much better return this season after struggling for much of last term. Still finding his way in the pro game after a stellar amateur career, Dawson has all the attributes you could want in a golfer and he’ll hope to hit the ground running and build momentum in just his second full season as a pro.
Last but not least, Naas pro Conor O’Rourke completes the Irish line-up knowing he must make the most of precious starts to secure some long-term Tour status this year.
Plagued for much of last season by a niggling wrist injury, the new student of Zane Scotland showed some of his class already this year at the MENA Tour’s 2020 Arena Shootout in Ras Al Khaimah where he tied for second spot alongside Portmarnock Links’ ace Dawson.
Touched down in South Africa for my 1st @Challenge_Tour event of 2020 & with that I would like to take the opportunity to thank my team,my current sponsors & the brands that I represent for their continued support on this journey???? #Sponsors #BrandAmbassador #Grateful #ProGolf pic.twitter.com/Xg8mWEJrCb
— Conor O’ Rourke (@ConorORourke62) January 28, 2020
Following the South Africa swing, the Road to Mallorca will travel through 14 countries before arriving on the Balearic Island for the Challenge Tour Grand Final, where 20 players will earn European Tour cards for 2021, up from 15 graduates last season.
The first event of the season is an opportunity for the new Challenge Tour members to make an early impression.
All four of the respective Order of Merit winners from Europe’s leading satellite tours – Edoardo Lipparelli (Alps Tour), Niklas Nørgaard Møller (Nordic Golf League), Mikael Lundberg (Euro Pro Tour) and Hurly Long (Pro Golf Tour) – are in the field this week.
Co-sanctioned by The Sunshine Tour, the Limpopo Championship will feature 95 players from both the Challenge Tour and the Sunshine Tour, plus 14 invitations. The 204-player field will compete over two venues in Limpopo province, Euphoria Golf & Lifestyle Estate and Koro Creek Bushveld Golf Estate, before the top 60 players and ties progress through to the weekend to contest the title at the Annika Sorenstam-designed Euphoria.
Connor Syme, who won the opening event on the 2019 Road to Mallorca, can attest to the importance of a strong start after riding his momentum to secure his European Tour card at end of the season. In fact, the last three winners of the season-opener have gone on to graduate, with Aaron Rai and Lorenzo Gagli earning promotion in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
With over ten months to go until the Rankings are decided, there certainly is long way to go, but the Limpopo Championship winner will hope a strong start will pay off come November. We wish our lads well.
Irish tee-times (Irish time)
5.10am – Gavin Moynihan
5.40am – Niall Kearney
8.40am – Robin Dawson
8.50am – Conor O’Rourke
9.00am – Michael Hoey
You can keep up with all the action from Thursday HERE