Raymie remembers: Burns on Challenge Tour Order of Merit win 30 years later

Ronan MacNamara

Raymond Burns (Photo by Caroline Norris/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Shuffling through lists of Irish golfing accolades over the last three decades you will do well to find anyone who has achieved something that Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry have not. Step forward Raymond Burns.

It’s 30-years this season since the Banbridge native became the first Irish player to win the Challenge Tour Order of Merit and he remains the only Irishman to achieve such a feat.

Burns did it his own way too, playing 16 events in the 1994 season, compared to the 27 Marco Penge played last term. Burns earned a comfortable €44,000 while Penge walked away with €190,000. A sign of the times.

The new Head PGA Professional at Malahide Golf Club can still proudly boast to be among some big names like Tommy Fleetwood, Edoardo Molinari, Henrik Stenson and Thomas Bjorn to have won the season title on Europe’s second-tier.

“It’s a huge feat and I remember it like it was yesterday,” reflects Burns who put fierce dedication into his practice off the course and preparing for events.

“I turned professional and went for my card in 1993 and just missed out and went on the Challenge Tour. I decided to take a caddie with me, nobody had ever taken a caddie onto the Challenge Tour. I decided to play less events, because I wanted to practice and bring my game with me. If you don’t bring your game with you, you won’t find it there.

“You need self belief and the only way you get that is if you put the practice in you can bring that to an event. If you hit enough 8-irons to eight feet you’ll hit enough 8-irons to eight feet under pressure, if you hole enough putts from four feet in practice you’ll get them because you’ve prepared for them.

“I practiced and practiced and practiced. I just kept practicing, I was obsessed. I do find the amount of guys did years ago was an awful lot more than what I see some of the kids do now. The main reason maybe for that is we didn’t have the internet, iPhones, Netflix and all these different things.

“I enjoyed practicing. I hit an outrageous amount of golf balls, that’s what I enjoyed doing. Growing up it was non-stop sport for me whether it was soccer, Gaelic football, or hurling.”

The County Down man enjoyed a glittering junior career picking up the 1987 World Schools Championship before progressing on to win all four provincial Boys Championships in 1989 just one of two boys to ever achieve such a feat. In 1990 (aged 15) Burns added the Irish Boys Championship to his already trophy-laden CV.

Burns also performed well outside of Ireland, reaching the Quarter-Final of the British Amateur Championship and he began to enjoy his travels across the world, rubbing shoulders with the games top amateur golfers which gave him a taste for competing at the top level.

In 1992 he represented Great Britain and Ireland in the Eisenhower Trophy in Vancouver where he played alongside Welshman Bradley Dredge and it was this week that gave him the belief that he could shoot the scores to rub shoulders with the best.

During the event Burns came up against 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell, former world number one David Duval, 1997 Open champion Justin Leonard, Ignacio Garrido, Niclas Fasth and the late Fredrik Andersson Hed.

Burns turned professional shortly after playing in the 1993 Walker Cup for GB&I, a team that included Pádraig Harrington. He enjoyed great success on the Challenge Tour, winning two events on his way to graduating to the European Tour as the 1994 Order of Merit winner.

‘Raymie’ registered four top-10s on the European Tour including an 8th place finish on his debut at the Dubai Desert Classic and he maintained his place on Tour through to the end of the 1998 season.

After four solid years on the European Tour, Burns began to look towards the future and completed his PGA qualifications in 2002. During his later years on Tour, he bounced between competitive golf and working at Newlands Golf Club before eventually stepping away to focus on a career as a PGA Professional.

Life on Tour can be lonely, just read Chris Kirk’s story on how he combats loneliness on the road when travelling on the PGA Tour. But Burns never felt lonely and his labour of love never became a chore even during the days when he struggled.

“For me, golf was never boring I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the craic we had going to the golf club, in the clubhouse,” the 50-year-old explains.

“It’s very difficult to play through a downward spiral. I had invites for a couple of European Tour events that I pulled out of and concentrated on the Challenge Tour. I could be wrong here but I feel like Richard Bland was on the Challenge Tour at that time and he almost won it then a couple of years ago when he was back on it.

“When you enter professional golf and start competing on the Challenge Tour it becomes a monetary scenario. You’re not thinking of the money but you play in tournaments and realise you can compete and are better than some of the other players. I enjoyed that, I just didn’t putt as well as a professional like I did as an amateur. I hit the ball as well as a pro but probably not as long.

“Even from me winning the Challenge Tour to go onto the European Tour, the standard was like fifty times better. The Peter Baker’s still winning, Nick Faldo, Roger Davis, Tony Johnstone’s, Ernie Els, Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Mark James, Howard Clark. Anyone on that tour was a class player, unbelievable golfers.”

Towards the end of his time on tour, Burns admits he began to lose confidence on the greens which at the time wasn’t a recipe for success given the depth of talent in Europe at that time.

“I lost my putting a bit and I got a bit dubious about it which is a pity because I putted very well as an amateur, I just never allowed myself to putt well as a pro. Drove it perfect, irons perfect and chipped well. I never allowed myself to be free with the putter, I just told myself I was a bad putter when I wasn’t really but I made it difficult for myself.

“You miss a few putts and then you start missing cuts and it becomes worrying. The standard of golf back then was sensational, off the charts good.

“You just lose a bit of confidence and it doesn’t become as important to go into that level of performance because the level needed to be a professional is phenomenal to keep going at that level.”

Burns has carved out an excellent career as a PGA Professional and has just begun his second Head Professional role at Malahide Golf Club after seventeen years in Lisheen Springs.



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3 responses to “Raymie remembers: Burns on Challenge Tour Order of Merit win 30 years later”

  1. Eddie Teehan avatar
    Eddie Teehan

    Unbelievable short game Members at Malahide should avail of his expertise Best of luck in Malahide

  2. Gerald Donnelly avatar
    Gerald Donnelly

    I still have that jacket you persuaded me to buy in Lisheen
    If i’d known you were so famous i would have got you to sign it as well
    Many thanks
    Good luck in Malahide and every best wishes for the future

  3. Tom Fennelly avatar
    Tom Fennelly

    Raymie is truly one of golfs gentlemen that anyone could be privileged to know. And he always has ‘exactly ‘ what you want in his Pro Shop.
    Great to hear your at Malahide Raymie and I wish you well.

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