Robert MacIntyre’s Race To Dubai ranking has earned him a maiden major championship start at Royal Portrush (Getty Images)
The MENA Tour might be on ice for summer but breakout performances by members new and champions past elsewhere around the globe ensures the regional developmental circuit is never far from the headlines
By Kent Gray
Perhaps Robert MacIntyre knew something when he spoke about the merits of the MENA Tour earlier this year.
“There’s a few guys now on the European Tour that have come from the MENA Tour. They go out there to try and improve and it is a great tour to be a stepping stone to go to the European Tour and hopefully even major championships.”
The 22-year-old Scotsman has certainly skipped on from winning the MENA Tour’s Sahara Kuwait Golf Championship in 2017, earning promotion to the European Tour by finishing 12th on the Challenge Tour last season. MacIntyre clearly hasn’t been daunted by the step up either; the left-hander was 15th in the Race to Dubai rankings as we went to press and looking forward to a maiden major championship start courtesy of his steady rookie season, including back-to-back runner-up finishes at the British Masters and Made to Denmark.
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. He’ll be joined at the year’s final major by another star MENA Tour alumnae, Thai Jazz Janewattananond, and the regional development circuit’s patron, 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke.
There could yet be even more MENA Tour members teeing it up at Royal Portrush on July 18: Pavan Sagoo, Nick Marshall, Tom Shadbolt, Rob Harrhy, Jamie Rutherford, Alasdair Plumb, Seve Benson, Conor O’Neil and current amateur order of merit leader Curtis Knipes where all through to final qualifying on July 2.
With a four and a half month break between the end of the MENA Tour’s spring swing and the resumption of the season at the Journey to Jordan 2 championship on September 29, it should be a challenge to maintain the tour’s profile and momentum. But it’s a cinch when current members and past champions continue to perform on the world stage including recent EuroPro Tour wins for Todd Clements and Luke Joy.
Janewattananond, who won the 2017 Mahasamutr Open in his homeland, is a shining light. The 23-year-old Thai was up to a giddy 52nd in the Official World Golf Rankings at press time 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.
Frenchman Robin Roussel is the latest player to kick on from an impressive rookie season campaign on the MENA Tour. Winner of the spring swing’s final event, the Troon Series-Royal Golf Bahrain Open in mid-March, Roussel is now on the cusp of following MacIntyre’s path to the European Tour.
After winning the Hauts de France – Pas de Calais Golf Open in June, the 25-year-old was fourth in the Challenge Tour rankings at the time of press; the top-15 at the end of the season earn automatic entry to the main tour in 2020.
“I think the MENA Tour can be very proud of playing a small part in the success these and many more players are seeing in their games,” said MENA Tour Tournament Director Wayne Johnson.
“I think the way the MENA Tour has evolved from its humble beginning in 2011 with stronger and stronger fields competing, and the way it has been able to help develop and nurture some outstanding players over the years is a real testimony to the tour.
“I am very hopeful it will continue to be a catalyst for the continued development and success of many of our tour members with an increased tournament schedule in 2020 and the continued support from the exceptional golf courses and facilities in the MENA region.
“We need to say a big thank you to all of the venues who have been so supportive and played such a big part in providing superb courses in magnificent condition for our members to play and compete on.”
Roussel, 26 next month, is second in the OOM rankings and hopes to return for a tilt at the Journey to Jordan title in at least some of the MENA Tour season’s five remaining events.
Either way, there is a lot to look forward to even before the resumption of the title race. Courtesy of finishing fourth and fifth on the OOM in the first half of the season, Daniel Gaunt and Nick Marsh have starts in the Indonesian Masters (July 4-7) and Indonesian Open (Aug. 15-18) while Troon Series- Dubai Open champion Mathiam Keyser has two further Challenge Tour invites, the Slovakia Challenge (July 4-7) and the Made in Denmark Challenge (Aug. 7-10).
Knipes also has a Challenge Tour start on the horizon, the Northern Ireland Challenge Tour Open next month.