It’s the final hurdle for Tom McKibbin and John Murphy as they bid to secure promotion to the DP World Tour next season at this week’s Road to Mallorca Grand Final on the Challenge Tour.
Both players are in the 45-man field in Club de Golf Alcanada for the first time after enjoying good seasons in their first full season on Europe’s second-tier.
Lisheen Springs Golf Club Professional Raymond Burns is Ireland’s only winner of the Challenge Tour Rankings – topping the table in 1994.
McKibbin and Murphy are unlikely to top the rankings come Sunday evening but winning this week and earning promotion to Europe’s top-tier will be within their sights as two of Ireland’s brightest talents tee it up.
19-year-old McKibbin has a slightly easier task of securing his place in the top-20 and earning a DP World Tour card. McKibbin enters the week in 15th place in the Road to Mallorca Rankings knowing a good week will see him earn a card in just his first full season as a touring professional.
It has been an impressive season from the Holywood native who has been a staple inside the top-20 in the rankings having racked up a runner-up and a third place finish as well as five further top-10 finishes.
The teenager earned his maiden professional win at a Minor Golf League event in Florida in January and carried that momentum into the early period of the Challenge Tour season with third and seventh place finishes in the South African swing where poor final rounds prevented him from winning.
Taking the learnings of what it’s like to have a near miss in an event, McKibbin has maintained that consistency throughout the season making 15/22 cuts and guaranteeing his spot in the Horizon Irish Open at the K Club next year courtesy of a 2nd place finish at the Irish Challenge.
McKibbin rounded off the regular season with a T4th finish at the English Trophy including a final round of 65 and he has been relaxed in his preparations, taking some time with Raflewski Golf in Slieve Russell to iron out some chinks before arriving fresh and ready to go in Mallorca.
“I’m just going to focus on my own game and hopefully I can produce some solid golf and everything else will take care of itself,” said McKibbin who can become the youngest Road to Mallorca winner.
“If I play the same way I have all season I’m confident I can get the job done and secure my DP World Tour card.
“I’m focused on securing my card but obviously it would be fantastic to win the tournament because I know I still have a chance to win the Rankings.
“Obviously I want to make sure of the top 20 and get a full card for next year,” he told The Irish Times . “Anything worse than that and you’ll definitely get events on the main tour by being inside the top 45 but it would be complicated. You’d have to decide whether you want to dabble in events on the main tour or go full time on the Challenge Tour. That seems to not work out the best for people when they try and combine the two – there’s a lot of chopping and changing.
“So top 20 is the aim, definitely. This is what the whole season has been working towards. It should be good. It’ll be fun. It will be my first limited-field event where there’s no cut and you’re guaranteed four days’ play. I’m looking forward to the week and seeing how well I can play.”
“My game has developed so much this year,” he said. “The courses have been fantastic, and the fields have been so strong that I have naturally had to up my game and make my misses a lot smaller because any mistakes get punished out here on the Challenge Tour. I’ve definitely grown as both a player and a person this year.
“The course is lovely this week and I think it will be a good test of golf. It looks generous off the tee but once you get up there you realise how narrow the fairways are and if you miss the fairway, the rough can be quite thick which means the ball sits right down.
“It’ll be great to have my family with me this week. They don’t get to see me play that much so hopefully I can put on a show for them.”
McKibbin is grouped with Irish Challenge winner Todd Clements and Danish golfer Martin Simonsen.
Kinsale native Murphy needs to win to charge into the top-20 and win DP World Tour promotion.
The 24-year-old arrives 42nd in the rankings following a season that has lacked consistency.
Murphy’s best finishes are successive third place finishes and he was in contention in the English Trophy only for a final round 73 which saw him fall down to 35th position.
Murphy tees off alongside Simon Forsstrom Alfie Plant who won the 2017 Open Championship Silver Medal.