Ireland’s super seven in Aberdeen for Scottish Challenge

Ronan MacNamara

Tom McKibbin (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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A stacked Irish contingent head to Scotland for the Farmfoods Scottish Challenge supported by the R&A this week as the Challenge Tour enters a hectic summer schedule. Four-time major winner and former world number one Brooks Koepka is a former winner of this event.

Challenge Tour regulars John Murphy, Tom McKibbin, Paul Dunne and Gavin Moynihan are joined by Conor Purcell, James Sugrue and Charlie Williams in Newmacher Golf Club.

Kinsale’s Murphy has had a slow start to the season and will be hoping a packed summer period can help him play his way into some form and kickstart his promotion bid to the DP World Tour.

The 23-year-old has missed his last four cuts on both the Challenge and PGA Tours including a chastening second round 85 at last week’s Challenge de Espana. The Walker Cup star is 59th in the Road to Mallorca Rankings.

Holywood’s McKibbin will be hoping to get back on the horse after missing his last two cuts on the second-tier. The nineteen-year-old has fallen to 21st in the Road to Mallorca after a slight lull following his rapid start to the season.

McKibbin, who notched his first professional win in a Minor Golf League event in Florida in January, carried that form onto the Challenge Tour with finishes of third and seventh.

Since then finishes of 49th, 37th, MC, MC have stalled his momentum slightly but opportunity knocks this week in Aberdeen.

The return to full fitness of Dunne was highly anticipated at the start of the season but regular golf for the Greystones native after two years of injury hell hasn’t yielded results as of yet. The 2017 British Masters winner has made just one cut on the Challenge Tour and one on the DP World Tour this season.

Gavin Moynihan will be hoping to kickstart his season following a poor run of form while Purcell and Sugrue make the step up from the Alps Tour this week.

Portmarnock’s Purcell has been in flying form on the Alps Tour, rising to sixth on the Order of Merit and he threatened to claim his maiden Challenge Tour win in Spain last week. A third round 68 moved the former Walker Cupper to within one of the lead but a disappointing final round 78 saw him drift out to a share of 24th.

The Challenge Tour has a glowing reputation for developing young stars such as Koepka, Thomas Bjorn, Henrik Stenson among others. Might we have another one in the shape of Frank Kennedy?

The 16-year-old Englishman can become the youngest winner in Challenge Tour history with victory at Newmachar Golf Club, a record which is currently held by South Korean Kim Min-kyu after he won the 2018 D+D Real Czech Challenge at the age of 17.

Kennedy first hit the headlines when he made the cut on his DP World Tour debut at the 2021 Hero Open last year at the age of 15. The amateur was on the cut line at Fairmont St Andrews but rolled in a birdie at the last to make the weekend field and eventually finished in a tie for 63rd.

“Playing on the DP World Tour last year was a great experience for me,” he said. “I played fairly well on the first couple of days in Scotland, but the putts didn’t drop. I birdied the final hole in round two to just make the cut on the number. It’s given me great confidence that I can perform at this level.

“I now spend most of my time in Florida but come back during the English summer to play in the amateur events. I’ve got a busy schedule this year and I’m hoping to take advantage of some playing opportunities on the Challenge Tour.”

The Englishman arrives in Scotland full of confidence having secured a sensational wire-to-wire victory at the Portuguese Amateur Championship earlier this year and he believes his putter could be key to success this week.

“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself this week,” he said. “I’m just going to play my golf game, stick to my strategy and see where that leads me. My strength is in my iron play and I’m pretty dialled in with my numbers. If I can get my putts rolling in then it should be a good week.”

Kennedy will be joined in Scotland by 2018 Silver Medal winner Sam Locke. Locke recently became the first three-time winner on the Tartan Pro Tour, a Scottish based Tour which was created by 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie to provide a stepping-stone for aspiring tournament professionals to reach the highest levels of competition.

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