Challenge Tour graduates: Profiling the 15 newest European Tour members

Ben Coley profiles the Challenge Tour graduates
Ben Coley profiles the Challenge Tour graduates

With the 2020 season not far away, Ben Coley profiles the 15 players who earned European Tour cards via the Challenge Tour.

Francesco Laporta

Age and nationality: 29, Italian

Race To Dubai best: 189th (2016)

Twitter: @lapo10

Instagram: francesco__laporta

Bearded Italian who used seventh place in the Italian Open as a springboard to a career-changing stretch which, somewhat ridiculously, means he's currently pegged for a Ryder Cup spot. First, he won the Hainan Open to move to the top of the Race to Mallorca, and then three weeks later he added the Challenge Tour Grand Final to graduate in style. Those are his only two wins of note but they came six years after turning professional, so there are no concerns things have happened quickly for a man who spent the first half of the campaign way down the list of potential table-toppers. Has a European Tour season in the bag, too, having played 19 events in 2016 as a Qualifying School graduate. Showed little then, but seventh in last year's Sicily Open shows what he can do when comfortable. As well as in Italy, expect him to find that comfort in South Africa, where he started life as a professional on the Sunshine Tour. Accurate type who carded four eagles in a single round in Turkey at the start of the season but is probably best under tougher conditions.

Calum Hill

Age and nationality: 25, Scottish

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @CalumHill_golf

Instagram: calumhill_golf

Long-time rankings leader who took advantage of a sloppy finish from compatriot Scott Henry to win in Northern Ireland last season, and hasn't looked back. Wins in Austria and Denmark this summer confirmed he'd be playing European Tour golf next year and he's managed to squeeze in plenty of practice, playing all four rounds in the Kenya Open (66th), Scottish Open (26th), Dunhill Links (26th) and Open de Espana (17th). Already, that's form which suggests he'll have no problems whatsoever making the transition and this dynamite putter, who qualified for the US Open last summer, has a bright future. Didn't always look to be the case as he stayed on at college presumably to guarantee a safety net, but now it's a case of preparing to dine at the top table having only just turned 25. Before that he gets to bag some more experience in the Mayakoba Classic on the PGA Tour, having been invited thanks to an old college connection, and he'll do so with his younger brother starting full-time caddying duties. Clearly one to watch and can draw inspiration from exploits of Bob MacIntyre, who is part of the same management group.

Richard Bland

Age and nationality: 46, English

Race To Dubai best: 28th (2016)

Twitter: @blandy73

Veteran of the party who has seemed to relish the chance to show what he can still do this year, finishing second four times and adding a further trio of top-10 finishes to assure smooth passage back to the European Tour. Although it's a case of job done, it's equally a shame that Bland hasn't been rewarded with silverware, as we edge towards the 20-year anniversary of his sole professional win, which came in the Challenge Tour Grand Final. Perhaps now the ship has sailed, though in fairness he looked to be getting there before his brother contracted a life-threatening illness in late-2017, which surely had something to do with Bland's huge drop in form thereafter. It's easy then to buy into the idea that he'll play with freedom now having earned a last shot at glory, and there are enough opportunities - especially in continental Europe - for him to secure an emotional and overdue success.

Richard Bland
Richard Bland

Sebastian Heisele

Age and nationality: 31, German

Race To Dubai best: 141st (2017)

Twitter: @SHeisele

Instagram: sebastianheisele

Big-hitting German who, like Laporta, only came good towards the end of the campaign as he climbed to a career-high world ranking. Victory in France was impressive - after an opening 73, he went 64-65-65 to triumph by two - and he's backed it up with three top-three finishes to confirm a return to the European Tour. Did fare reasonably well in 2017, finishing 141st on the Race To Dubai and then successfully navigating Qualifying School, though 2018 was far less fruitful. Having grown up in Dubai he plays a lot of golf at the Emirates, where he's a regular club champion, and his best form so far has been on modern, wide courses such as when third in the KLM Open. Green Eagle - home of the Porsche European Open - represents a home game which is as suitable as anything but he'll no doubt be eager to take advantage of an adopted home game in the Dubai Desert Classic. One to watch in the first-round leader market and this late-maturing type can improve on what he's done so far.

Adrian Meronk

Age and nationality: 26, Polish

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @AdrianMeronk

Instagram: adrian_meronk

Pioneering Polish player whose victory in Portugal was one of 10 top-10 finishes, more than enough for him to become the first man from his country to earn full European Tour status. It had been coming for a player who achieved plenty as an amateur, often when representing Poland, such as when third in the 2016 Eisenhower Trophy individual section - just ahead of Matthias Schwab and two clear of Viktor Hovland. Made the semi-finals of the Amateur Championship that year and in 2015 he took care of US stud Maverick McNealy in the Palmer Cup. Teamed up with Thomas Detry in that event and this formerly top-ranked junior has a bright future, make no mistake. Issue would be he's severely lacking in European Tour experience, though at least he gets a couple of home-ish games having been born in Germany before the family moved to Wroclaw. Tall youngster is one to watch with the future in mind, even if he drops back down before he gets comfortable where he likely belongs.

Jack Senior

Age and nationality: 31, English

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @JSenior88

Instagram: jackseniorgolf

As a member of the winning 2011 Walker Cup team, where he came up against Jordan Spieth in singles and teamed up well with Andy Sullivan, Senior hasn't quite enjoyed the success which had been expected. Always looked too good for the minor tours - as evidenced by multiple wins on the EuroPro and Alps - but hasn't yet been able to show what he can do at European Tour level, where he's yet to hold a full card. Best effort so far came when 16th in the Trophee Hassan at Dar Es Salam, and that sort of test should suit a player who seemingly likes to grind and has had to work hard to get to the promised land. Twice a winner on the Challenge Tour now, both in play-offs, while as an amateur he contended for titles all over the world as well as winning the Lytham Trophy closer to home. Win in the ISPS Handa World Invitational was all the more impressive as he'd turned down the opportunity to play the Czech Masters that week and perhaps his patience and persistence will pay off.

Robin Roussel

Age and nationality: 26, French

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @RobinRoussel

Instagram: robinroussel

Paris-born, Cannes-residing former member of the France national golf team, who has steadily progressed through the ranks as a professional. Rewarded with St Omer win this summer, a bogey-free weekend particularly impressive on that course and in those circumstances, and stressed afterwards that MENA Tour experience at the start of the year had helped. Win in Bahrain back in March earned him a spot in the Maybank Championship, his only European Tour start to date, and he played well despite missing the cut by one. Hard to get a handle on as he was a little way behind some of his contemporaries in that France squad and has definitely moved up a notch.

Antoine Rozner

Age and nationality: 26, French

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @AntoineRozner

Instagram: antoinerozner

A former team-mate of Roussel and likely remains ahead of him in the pecking order, despite slipping one place behind in the Road to Mallorca rankings. Rozner was a very good college golfer in the US, and back-to-back wins on the Challenge Tour in May confirmed his place on the European Tour for 2020. The speed with which he took care of business also allowed him to bag some more European Tour experience, reaching the latter stages of the Belgian Knockout and finishing an excellent 21st in the KLM Open. His debut at the top table in fact came last December when invited to play the Mauritius Open, and he showed what he can do back then with a staying-on seventh place. Looks to have a big future and a return to Mauritius gives him the chance to make an immediate impression now in possession of a card. Not much of him but gets it out there and fancied to quickly establish himself as the next in line after sparring partner Romain Langasque.

Matthew Jordan

Age and nationality: 23, English

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @Matthew_Jordan7

Instagram: matt_jordan7

Young pup who secured his card a year after turning professional, having been among the country's top amateurs and picked up wins in both the St Andrews Trophy and the Lytham Trophy which, given that he's a Hoylake member, gives him a solid links CV. No doubt the experience bagged on the European Tour late last year helped prepare him for the Challenge Tour, where he carded a round of 62 en route to a top-10 finish in his very first event, and those invites he was given from September through to the Saudi International in February will give him a head start. Win came in Italy but the key takeaway has to be his consistency, having missed just one cut on the Challenge Tour and so far made more than he has missed at the top level. That could be massive when it comes to keeping his card. Having led the British Masters back in May and won a play-off in June, there's not much he hasn't already experienced and this quality ball-striker could be one of the stars of the group.

Ricardo Santos

Age and nationality: 37, Portuguese

Race To Dubai best: 65th (2013)

Twitter: @RSantos_golf

Not far behind Bland in the experience stakes, Santos has some high-class European Tour form to his name such as fourth in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship behind three Ryder Cup players. Also inside the top 10 in the Dubai Desert Classic and having contended for some more low-key events, Santos is more than capable - though perhaps the fact his one European Tour win came in an event co-sanctioned with the Challenge Tour, and held on home soil, is the best indicator of where we stand with the 37-year-old. Accurate driver at his best but it's on and around the greens that he does damage, and it may just be that he produces sufficient bursts of scoring to keep his head above water. Suspect he'll be fighting right through to the final event back home in Portugal, and it's handy therefore that he now lives a short stroll from the first tee.

Cormac Sharvin

Age and nationality: 27, Northern Irish

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @CormacSharvin92

Instagram: cormacsharvin92

Long considered a talent and showed what he can do at the 2015 Walker Cup when, as one of the youngest members of the home side, he took three points from the three matches he played. Didn't set the world alight after turning professional and has been grinding away on the Challenge Tour, where from 2016 to 2018 he managed just two top-five finishes. Then things changed. After missing out on a European Tour card when incurring a penalty in the final round of Qualifying School, Sharvin moved south to Dublin, where he says he's been able to play more money games against better players and really begin to improve. The results have been immediate, with six top-five finishes this year and a couple more top-10s enough to earn promotion despite remaining without silverware as a professional. Fared best of the home contingent when 15th in the Irish Open back in July, despite claiming to be below his best, and has enough about him to survive.

Oliver Farr

Age and nationality: 31, Welsh

Race To Dubai best: 145th (2018)

Twitter: @oliverfarr25

Instagram: olliefarr

Finished inside the top 15 in the Challenge Tour rankings for the third time in his career, having also done so following wins in 2014 and 2017. This year he bagged his third second-tier title, winning by three in Morocco, and as that performance showed he's been at his best when the going gets tough. Hasn't done badly on the main tour, finishing 156th (2015) and 145th (2018) on the Race To Dubai, though has missed far too many cuts for comfort having so far appeared just below the required standard. Does hit a lot of greens and will hope that there are enough challenging set-ups to bring his strengths to the fore. Needs to really take advantage of the good weeks, which will likely come in events where prize money is low.

Darius van Driel

Age and nationality: 30, Dutch

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @DariusvanDriel

Decent Dutchman who celebrated turning 30 with his second Challenge Tour win this summer, beating Sharvin by one in Switzerland. That earned van Driel his first European Tour card but he's picked up some experience over the last five years, most notably when second in the Belgian Knockout, beaten by Guido Migliozzi in the final. Has also played in the World Cup alongside Joost Luiten and did well to pick up a top-10 finish in the Grand Final to wrap up his card. Not one who will be overpowering a course but with two top-10 finishes from just a handful of European Tour starts, he's entitled to approach the task ahead with confidence. Yet to make the cut in the KLM Open but has only had a couple of cracks at that and is one to watch on shorter courses when scoring is low.

Connor Syme

Age and nationality: 24, Scottish

Race To Dubai best: 126th (2018)

Twitter: @connor_syme

Instagram: connorsyme

Winner of the Turkish Airlines Challenge in the spring, and at the time would've seemed a shoo-in for a card. In the end, a run of so-so golf meant he needed something in the Grand Final, with 15th place just enough to get the job done. Says he's inspired by what MacIntyre has done as he returns for a second crack at the European Tour, where he finished just outside the mark in 2018 having graduated through Qualifying School. Ultimately paid the price for managing just two top-20 finishes, even if he was runner-up in the Shot Clock Masters, and says consistency is his target for the year ahead. Won the Australian Amateur once upon a time so could be one to watch if playing in the Australian PGA at the end of November. Good driver of the ball who remains with the potential to kick on now he's come through what was a real test of his mettle in Mallorca which could be the making of him.

Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez

Age and nationality: 30, Spanish

Race To Dubai best: N/A

Twitter: @SebasGarciaGolf

Prolific Alps Tour winner who looked set to cruise onto the European Tour when bagging a brace of top-three finishes in September. Struggled over the final few events, though, and had to hang on for dear life in the Grand Final, shooting 76-77 over the weekend to fall from second at halfway to an eventual 35th. That would not have been enough had Heisele made bogey at the last, but the German's par meant it was Garcia Rodriguez who took the final card ahead of Robin Sciot-Siegrist. Limited European Tour experience and has failed at Qualifying School, so expectations have to be set low and he'll do well to keep up with his close friend who topped the rankings.

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