Conor Purcell opens up on Challenge Tour life: “It can be a golfer’s graveyard”

Ronan MacNamara

Conor Purcell

Ronan MacNamara

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Conor Purcell is dreaming of going from a rental car to a courtesy car as he plots the quickest way off the Challenge Tour and onto the highways that are the DP World and PGA Tours.

Life as a professional has not been without its obstacles for the 26-year-old who recommends not turning pro during a global pandemic! But despite the adversity he has managed to make steady progression and now looks like one of the favourites to secure promotion to the DP World Tour.

Purcell found a burst of form in 2022 that saw him come through the Alps Tour and onto the Challenge Tour where he played well enough in limited starts to earn a full card for 2023. Last season he made it to the Grand Final but missed out on the coveted top-20 and a main tour card while this season he sits inside that mark as of the conclusion of the Asian swing.

Ahead of the European swing, the second tier has served as a great learning curve for the Portmarnock man, but he wants out although he knows he must be careful not to let impatience cloud his progress.

“I’ve heard many different descriptions of the Challenge Tour,” says Purcell. “It can be a golfer’s graveyard for some people who have been on it for over ten years, it can feel like you’re never going to get off. I just want to have the mentality that I can learn the trade there and get off it as soon as I can and make my way through the ranks.

“It’s a good breeding ground, it gets you used to scoring low and getting high finishes. You need high finishes to get into the top-20 on the Order of Merit so it’s a good learning curve.

“It feels like last year was my first proper crack at it. I feel you mature as a golfer in the space of four or five years. I feel a lot more comfortable playing events. Earlier, I would have felt out of my depth, but the more you expose yourself to those situations you realise everyone is in the same boat and that golfing maturity is a real thing. Each year you gain on experiences from the year previous and learn from each year.”

Purcell doesn’t do social media when he’s on tour, which means he doesn’t portray a false sense of reality of life on the Challenge Tour.

While you do get to travel to some exotic places like South Africa, India, UAE, China, and all over Europe, it’s far from a ‘life of Riley’ that Purcell is living. It’s a scrap to rent a car and find suitable accommodation, while the golf courses are often a long distance from major airports.

Money is also tight at this level. While the PGA Tour and PIF struggle to come to an agreement on how to make the rich richer, many on the Challenge Tour are scrimping and saving to make ends meet on a weekly basis.

Thankfully, for Purcell he is healthily backed by Flogas, Golf Ireland and Mahony Fleet to ease the financial pressure on a tour where life can be quiet – often too quiet.

“It varies with each individual. I am fortunate enough to be lucky with the sponsors that I have, they can take the financial burden away and you can pick and choose where you go and when you go which makes life a little bit easier and you can focus on the golf which is the main thing,” Purcell explains.

“Some weeks are more difficult than others. Travel wise it can be harder than the DP World Tour because we tend to play further away from some major airports. “On the golf course it’s a lot quieter with no crowds really. I think people’s perception of what Challenge Tour golf is like is a bit off – it’s a lot quieter than what we see on TV for DP World Tour events. But it’s been great the past year. I’ve really enjoyed it and my love for golf is at an all-time high. “Some people take caddies, some don’t. You can stay in cheap places or stay somewhere nicer. For me, finishing in the top-20 each week would break even. You can have a very solid week, finish 25th and all of a sudden, you’ve lost a bit of money.”

Motivation can be hard to come by understandably, but Purcell isn’t frustrated by the lack of riches on offer; rather he sees it as a tool to work harder and try and get off the tour as quickly as possible.

“The Challenge Tour is not somewhere where you see yourself having a full career,” he says. “If it was comfortable and you could make money, people would be enticed to stay on it so I actually think it’s good that it’s very tough to break even. It gets you in that mindset to get off it.”

Purcell is a very consistent performer on the Challenge Tour, but he knows winning at least once would tick a lot of boxes and take the pressure off on the weeks where he is below par during the hectic summer schedule.

“It’s a case of strengthening what I have. I wouldn’t say I have a huge deficit anywhere in my game, I am happy to see improvement in most areas each year which is great. Once I improve year on year, I will be very happy with myself.

“Just constant improvement is what I’m looking for. Each year there has been a little increase in ranking. I have been getting better and better and if I can keep doing that it will transfer onto the major tours.

“Winning is a big goal of mine. Hopefully I can carry what I have learned from my experiences so far and try and get that win.”

Promotion to the DP World Tour isn’t where the Malahide native’s ambitions end. He has set his sights on progressing to the PGA Tour and playing in major championships with the 2025 Open in Royal Portrush earmarked.

“I look at every week as an investment in my future self, trying to get off Challenge Tour onto DP World Tour and hopefully onto the PGA Tour one day.

“Obviously majors are a little bit out of reach as of yet, but things can happen really quickly in golf as I am well aware and if I can go on a hot run, I would like to think my good golf could take me as far as top-50 in the world. It’s about staying patient and playing good golf and not getting caught up in results or anything like that, just put in the work and see where it takes me.

“Playing in a major is a huge goal of mine, the sooner I can do that the happier I will be.”

Purcell has a calm nature about him. Whether he is playing poorly or battling at the top of leaderboards, he doesn’t tend to get too flustered – possibly because there are a lack of leaderboards on the course! However, he is bursting with ambition as he looks to make up for lost time following some covid impacted early years as a professional.

26 is still young for a professional golfer, but Purcell has developed a thick skin and a maturity during those tough formative years as a pro where he had to keep his head down and remain patient despite the few opportunities he was getting.

Conor and a host of other Irish talent will be at the Irish Challenge at the K Club from August 1-4 and you can register for your FREE tickets HERE 

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