English teen Curtis Knipes, 18, leads the MENA Tour’s amateur Journey to Jordan points race.
By Kent Gray
The MENA Tour has set itself the lofty goal of becoming the best little mini-tour in the world. With five members present and past en-route to the final major of the year, the regional developmental circuit is clearly on track.
Mid-season Order of Merit (OOM) leaders Matthew Baldwin (professional) and 18-year-old Curtis Knipes (amateur) are the latest to punch their tickets to the 148th Open Championship after advancing through final qualifying.
The Englishmen will join former MENA Tour winners Jazz Janewattananond (Thailand) and Robert MacIntyre (Scotland) at Royal Portrush from July 18 after they qualified by winning the Singapore Open and courtesy of a top-20 Race to Dubai ranking respectively.
England’s Callum Shinkwin, who won the MENA Tour’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic Shootout in January and also qualified for Abu Dhabi’s European Tour stop, will also tee it up in Northern Ireland. Shinkwin and Knipes topped the Final Qualifying tournament at Prince’s in Kent while Baldwin earned one of the 12 final spots and his fifth major championship start by finishing third at St Annes Old Links.
“This is a historic moment for the MENA Tour,” said David Spencer, a strategic advisor to the Middle East circuit.
“We have set out with the objective of creating the finest development Tour in the world, and these are moments which help us rededicate ourselves to the cause with a new zeal.”
Baldwin currently leads the MENA Tour’s Journey To Jordan (OOM) by $2,530 over Frenchman Robin Roussel. The Southport 33-year-old led at St Annes Old Links with a superb seven-under par 65 opening round. He then rounded off with a two-under par 70 to finish on nine-under par, good enough for a solo third place.
Chelmsford teen Knipes, who enjoys a healthy lead of nearly 1,670 points over Josh Hill in the MENA Tour’s amateur Journey to Jordon race, shot 67 in the morning at Prince’s and followed it up with a 68 in the afternoon. Shinkwin started with a 70 but was brilliant in the afternoon as he returned a card of 65 to also finish -9.
Janewattananond, who won the 2017 Mahasamutr Open in his homeland, is one of the MENA Tour’s shining lights. The 23-year-old Thai is up to a giddy 52nd in the Official World Golf Rankings after securing his third and fourth Asian Tour titles this season at the Singapore and Korean Opens, the former securing his place in The Open.
The Open will be the former teen prodigy’s third major championship start. He missed the cut at last year’s Open at Carnoustie but impressed with his swashbuckling game at the PGA Championship in mid-May, rounds of 70-68-67 earning him a spot in the penultimate final round two-ball at Bethpage Black. Sadly he slid to a share of 14th following a Sunday 77 but showed the undoubted class first evidenced globally in 2010 when he became the youngest player – at 14 years and 71 days – to make a halfway cut in an Asian Tour event at the Asian Tour International.
MacIntyre qualified for this month’s 148th Open Championship courtesy of being one of the first five players in the top-20 Race to Dubai rankings who hadn’t already qualified for Royal Portrush.
The second half of the 10-event MENA Tour schedule for 2019 begins with the Journey to Jordan-2 championship at Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, Jordan, from September 29.