Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell is relishing a Horizon Irish Open return after securing his place at the K Club in September courtesy of taking leading Irishman honours at the Irish Challenge in Headfort Golf Club, Kells.
Caldwell finished in a share of ninth place on the new course, pipping Conor Purcell, Conor O’Rourke and Kilkenny amateur Mark Power to the coveted K Club spot as he took home the Christy O’Connor Jr. Trophy.
Not only was it the Northern Irishman’s first top-10 of the season, it was his first top-10 since winning the 2021 Scandinavian Mixed for his maiden DP World Tour victory and after the end of what was a torrid time on the golf course, falling outside the top-1300 having been a career-high 210th, he is looking up, starting with the Horizon Irish Open.
Caldwell joins a strong field with Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Tom McKibbin, Seamus Power, Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Tyrrell Hatton, Min Woo Lee and Billy Horschel among the big names.
“It’s great to play on home soil, I’ve played in three Irish Opens now,” said Caldwell who moved up to 99th in the Challenge Tour Road to Mallorca Rankings. “The crowds are spectacular and it gets a great field now. Rory and Shane are playing so there will be lots of hype around the place so it’s a really good and exciting week.
“At the start of the week I probably would have taken a result like that given my recent form leading into the Irish Challenge, although I had been starting to play a little bit better. But a top-10 finish and obviously a nice reward with the Irish Open at the K Club will be nice for me and some friends and family, it will be a nice week.
“I was aware of where I was in terms of the leaderboard, I wasn’t too focused on where the other Irish guys were, I was just trying to finish as high as possible for the week and if I got the K Club spot then great.
“I’m pleased with where my game is at, if I can continue with the way I am playing in terms of ball striking and just get a few more putts to drop I can contend in other tournaments, I’m sure.”
Caldwell had lost ground on the leaders after a three-over front nine but three birdies in four holes on the back nine regained his grip on the Irish Open spot and he was pleased with the patience he showed despite his evident frustration.
“I was getting a little bit frustrated on the front nine, I’d hit some good shots but started a little bit ropey and had two three-putts on the front nine to go out in three-over which wasn’t ideal in the conditions. I birdied the tenth and gave it back with another three-putt, so to birdie 13 was key and then I kept the momentum rolling with an up and down on 14 the par five. I made a great par save on 15 and then a nice solid finish. I was just keeping the ball in play really,” explained Caldwell who partnered Rory McIlroy in the 2007 Walker Cup foursomes as he enjoyed a glittering amateur career which included winning the St Andrews Trophy, Palmer Cup and European Team Championships.
Caldwell lost his DP World Tour playing rights last season but in recent months, he’s been steadily climbing up the Race to Mallorca rankings in the hopes of a return to the DP World Tour for 2024, but needs a very strong finish to the season to catapult him into the all-important top-20.
The 39-year-old carded rounds of 70, 66, 71 and 71 in torrential conditions around Headfort’s Championship Course and after playing in the final group in France and another decent finish in Germany, he feels he is finally trending in the right direction.
“Up until recently, I had been playing pretty dreadful all season but it looks like things are about to turn a corner. I’ve been working really hard. The finish at the Irish Challenge just adds a bit of confidence to what I’ve been doing. Played in the final group in France and didn’t play particularly great in the final round, but I’m still learning a few things and getting comfortable with the things that I am doing on the golf course, so that was a good learning curve to be in the final group and not perform – I learned a lot from it.
“Didn’t play particularly well in Germany but brought a bit of momentum to Headfort and played very nicely tee to green and if I holed some more putts I could have been right up there at the top fighting for the win. It was challenging, to say the least, with the wind getting up and the rain especially on Sunday. I controlled my ball nicely and kept it out of the long rough and saved par a few times when I needed to.
“I’m taking confidence in my ball striking going forward. I drove the ball really well, hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens so that was sort of the base of my performance. Didn’t hit it particularly close in the conditions with the wind and rain, but I managed to keep the doubles off my card this week.”
Caldwell has been bouncing around the tours for much of his career having first come through 2008 European Tour Qualifying School to earn his card for 2009. However, he was unable to retain his playing rights and played a number of events on the Challenge Tour in 2009, 2010 and 2011. From 2012 to 2017 he played mostly on the PGA EuroPro Tour, winning tournaments in 2016 and 2017. He finished fifth in the 2017 Order of Merit to earn a place on the Challenge Tour for 2018 before progressing through to earn a DP World Tour card again.
Last month, he made his DP World Tour appearance of the season at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational at Galgorm and this is his fourth Irish Open outing having finished 54th in 2020 at Galgorm Castle before missing the cut in the two editions at Mount Juliet.