Strong home-based contingent set for Irish Challenge

Prestigious Portmarnock Links event presents a big opportunity for 28 home players

 James Sugrue:  former British Amateur champion will be making his third appearance on the Challenge Tour   at Portmarnock Links.  Photograph:  Luke Walker/Getty Images

James Sugrue: former British Amateur champion will be making his third appearance on the Challenge Tour at Portmarnock Links. Photograph: Luke Walker/Getty Images

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It’ll all be staged behind closed doors away from prying eyes unfortunately, but the Irish Challenge at the Bernhard Langer-designed Portmarnock Links presents a gilt-edged opportunity for no fewer than 28 home players to impact on a stage just one rung below the main tour.

James Sugrue, who won the British Amateur championship at neighbouring Portmarnock Golf Club in 2019, is among those now making their way on the professional circuit and in the field for what will be just his third outing on the Challenge Tour; while The Island’s Paul McBride, a former Walker Cup player, who was at Wake Forest University at the same time as rising star Will Zalatoris, will be aiming to make his own mark after some decent performances on the Alps Tour.

Indeed, the home brigade span the generations with the young guns – among them teenager Tom McKibbin, who turned pro after failing to make the Walker Cup team for the match in Seminole – joined by seasoned tour players, including 42-year-old Co Antrim man Michael Hoey, who has five European Tour successes in his career.

Another former Walker Cup player Conor Purcell, who grew up learning the game at the adjacent Portmarnock where his father, Joey, was the long-time club professional, has impressed in recent weeks at tournaments in Sweden – 15th at the Range Servant tournament and 54th in the Dormy Open – and is looking to use local knowledge to good effect, having competed regularly in the Links’ Winter Series in recent years.

Competitive rounds

“What you find out here on tour is that the depth is so strong, there are so many players than can win every week and it’s just a matter of stringing everything together in the week.

“The last two weeks have gone quite well for me. I have been able to get some good competitive rounds under my belt. This last year has been very stop-start and it seems like we’re getting back to a bit of normality. I’m really looking forward to the week,” said the 23-year-old Malahide man.

Sweden’s Bjorn Hellgren, who lost a play-off in last week’s Dormy Open, will be aiming to bounce back while his compatriot Henric Sturehed, runner-up in the Dimension Data Pro-Am in South Africa earlier this month, is – at number three – the highest ranked player in the Race to Mallorca order of merit in the field.

“The course is looking absolutely brilliant and it looks like we may be lucky for once with the weather,” remarked Germany’s Moritz Lampert, a three-time winner on the Challenge Tour, of getting a rare opportunity to play a genuine links course on the circuit.

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