The Ras Al Khaimah Challenge is the penultimate event of the season, with players jostling for position in the top 46 to earn a spot in next week’s NBO Golf Classic Grand Final and, ultimately, a place in the top 16, all of whom will earn European Tour cards for next year.
One man currently in touching distance of the 2017 Race to Dubai is Joël Stalter, who is currently in 14th spot on the Road to Oman, almost 15,000 points ahead of Ben Stow in 17th place, but with a lot of points on offer in the final two tournaments, nothing is yet guaranteed.
The Frenchman has enjoyed a very consistent season, with six top ten finishes, including a maiden Challenge Tour title at the Swedish Challenge hosted by Robert Karlsson, and he is trying not to think about what is at stake over the next fortnight in the Middle East.
“I’m feeling really good,” said the 24 year old. “For the first time I’m going to play Grand Final, I’ve never experienced it, but I can see guys being a bit more nervous, a bit more tense than usual – the top 16, the guys trying to get into the top 16 and the guys trying to qualify for next week.
“For me it’s the same as every tournament and I’m here to do the job, just focus on what I can do, try to do my best – I’m obviously aiming to win, this week and next week too – but more importantly I’m here to do the same routines as I have all year because they’ve been working.
“I’m trying not to think too much about the importance of this two weeks. Even if you’re trying not to look at the Rankings, you’re still looking at it, you can’t really help it.
“I’ve had a really good season and I don’t see any reason to change what I’m doing now, and the extra pressure shouldn’t be influencing me for these last two events because I’ve been very consistent all year and playing good golf.
“I’m going to try my best, fight for every shot, but it is a bit nerve-wracking, especially the last two weeks in China and now these two in the Middle East, it’s like you’re in the circus and you just change the décor every week.”
The décor this week is the stunning Al Hamra Golf Club, which promises to provide an enjoyable test of all 105 players in the desert heat.
“The UAE is a great for golf, with so many great courses out here, and conditions are perfect, especially when we get to leave Europe where it’s almost winter now, so I really like being here and it’s a great place to end the season.”
This has been something of a breakthrough season for Stalter, following two solid if unspectacular years on the Challenge Tour where he was adjusting to the life of a professional golfer.
Now, with a victory under his belt and a European Tour card in his sights, he is trying to retain some perspective as all around him fixate on the various permutations surrounding this week’s tournament.
“I would be disappointed not to finish in the top 16, but the year wouldn’t be a failure,” he said. “I haven’t pictured not finishing in there, to be honest, and I’m trying not to imagine it, but it would be a disappointment.
“But whether you make it this year or not, it’s not what’s going to define your career. It’s far more important to look at how you’re going to keep improving – and you never know, you can miss top 16 but go to South Africa and win an early European Tour event, and end up with better status.
“Looking at the bigger picture, it’s all about keeping on learning and improving, and this is just a step. It would be a big achievement to get the top 16 but I think this season is already a great achievement in my career and I’m really proud of it – now I’m just trying to have fun and finish the job.”
Article from The European Tour – http://www.europeantour.com/challengetour/season=2016/tournamentid=2016774/news/newsid=312701.html