Conor Purcell is ready to make home advantage count when the Irish Challenge returns to Headfort Golf Club for the first time since 2019 next week in Kells.
Headfort’s New Course will play host to Europe’s second tier from July 27-30 with several Irish stars looking to make the most of home comforts and push towards the top-20 on the Road to Mallorca and DP World Tour promotion.
Indeed, there is plenty to play for this year for our Irish charges outside of the winning cheque. In memory of one of Irish golf’s most popular and sadly missed characters, the Christy O’Connor Jr Memorial Trophy was introduced in 2016, and will be awarded to the highest placed Irish player at the end of the week. This player will also receive an invitation to this year’s Horizon Irish Open.
There has been no Irish winner since the tournament’s inception on the Challenge Tour in 2015. Last year’s Irish Challenge saw four Irishmen come inside the top-5 with recent DP World Tour winner Tom McKibbin claiming second place and with it, a spot in September’s Irish Open.
The Irish Challenge proved a springboard for the likes of John Murphy who was third, while Gary Hurley and Conor Purcell both finished fifth. Murphy went on to secure his DP World Tour card via Q-School while Hurley had already won on the Alps Tour before also earning a double promotion to the DP World Tour at Q-School.
Purcell kickstarted his summer and earned enough points to secure a full Challenge Tour card this term as he looks to cement a top-20 spot on the Road to Mallorca Rankings and seal promotion to the DP World Tour.
Portmarnock’s Purcell was on site at Headfort four years ago as an amateur but the opportunity to tee it up in the Irish Challenge never materialised, so he is delighted to tee it up this year.
“It’s a once-a-year thing at this level most of the time now and Headfort feels similar enough to home for me, I have a sister living down there and I know a lot of people down there so it’s nice to go back to somewhere you’re familiar with,” explained the Dubliner.
“I remember going up to Headfort in 2019 because I got a call to be a reserve as an amateur and spent the whole morning up there and didn’t make it in! So, I’m looking forward to playing it for the first time in a tournament.”
The 26-year-old feels last year’s top-5 finish in this event at the K Club Palmer South gave him momentum to secure his full Challenge Tour playing rights and he hopes this year’s tournament can give him a similar kick in the right direction and boost his DP World Tour hopes.
“I was lucky enough to play the Irish Challenge last year. I was able to stay at home and I had loads of support from home so it will be similar this time around. Every time you play at home you always get good support, even when you travel the world you see Irish people come out to support you in every neck of the woods so looking forward to experiencing some home support.
“It’s always a week where you feel if you can play well, you can ride a bit of momentum especially this time of year, the Irish Challenge comes in the bulk period of the season so it’s nice to carry forward some good form into the second half of the year. I want to put my best foot forward and give the people who are out to watch a good show.”
Purcell has never teed it up in the Irish Open and the prize for being the leading Irishman on Sunday has given him an extra incentive to play well.
“I think everyone’s dream as an Irish golfer growing up you always want to compete and win the Irish Open so we will be pushing to get the win in Headfort but just take it day by day and see where I am at the end of the week.
“Especially this year with the Irish Open being in the K Club and where it falls on the schedule, it will be a really big event and it seems to always get huge crowds and it’s an event I would love to play. I haven’t played in the Irish Open yet and I will be trying my best to get a spot in that.”
Purcell burst onto the scene this season with a top-7 in the Australian Open – his career best finish on the DP World Tour – before successive top-7 finishes to open his Challenge Tour campaign in South Africa propelled him into the top-10 in the Road to Mallorca Rankings.
Performances have been steady since then but he knows the Challenge Tour is a marathon not a sprint with plenty of time to kickstart his promotion bid and climb back inside the all-important top-20.
“It’s been a good season so far,” Purcell says. “The first two events in South Africa have set me up nicely but the season is a long one so it’s just about reserving energy and giving each week your best shot and not trying too hard to get into that top-20. Challenge Tour really rewards top fives and high finishes so just about doing what I’ve been doing, keep the head down and maximise those good weeks and finish as high as I can.
“As a golfer, we all seem to try perform every single week to the best of our ability but I think over the course of the year it’s quite hard to do that, it’s about knowing I’m in a good spot and feeling good about my game and I’m very excited for the second half of the year.”
You can attend the Irish Challenge FOR FREE by registering for tickets HERE