In a new column, Nick McCarthy discusses the ups and downs of returning to the Challenge Tour after eight years away
Even though I played a season on the Challenge Tour in 2011, this all seems very new. Then, I had only been a pro for a couple of years and I didn’t know a lot of people as I had only been on the EuroPro Tour for a couple of years.
On the course, I wasn’t driving the ball very well which made the courses look a lot tighter.
In between, there has been the odd start on the Challenge Tour but now I’ve got a full season after making the cut at Q School to improve my EuroPro ranking. Now, hopefully, I’m a bit wiser, a better player and I’m definitely looking forward to it more and I’m not anxious.
And it doesn’t feel too alien as I know a lot of players so sharing houses to keep costs down is quite straightforward. If you’re playing somewhere like Switzerland or Scandinavia it will cost around £700 for five nights, so splitting that is huge.
I would say more than half the players have a caddie but certainly not everyone and I’ll play most of this season without one.
I did have a local one in Kenya, which was a European Tour event this year, and he barely spoke until the last day. I had holed everything but played poor the first three days and then, as generally happens, I played well and couldn’t hole a thing on the last day.
When I had finished on 18 and he said: “Next day you come I read the greens as you hole nothing.” Then he listed all the missed putts! That was the highlight of the year so far, it was a great trip to get the season going and was played on a fun course. And the money is obviously on a different level to the Challenge Tour and it shows how crucial it can be to get some European Tour starts.
The top 45 from last season’s Challenge Tour all got a start in the British Masters.
When I looked the week before I was the 60th reserve for Hillside but I got a phone call on the Wednesday in Prague to say that I was the first reserve. It would have been amazing. I love Hillside and I qualified there for the 2017 Open, and had I been in the field I would have flown back. But I couldn’t do it and, as it turned out, I would have stayed by the 1st tee all day and then not got in.
There might be a chance of getting in Prague on the main tour or the BMW in Germany but they’re all way off so I just don’t know.
What has been great this year is getting some clubs thanks to Ping.
On the EuroPro you might be able to get a club deal but being on the Challenge Tour it’s a lot easier and they’ve been a massive help.
I hadn’t changed my Nike Vapor irons for five years and I’ve only been changing my Nike wedges through eBay as they have been increasingly difficult to get hold of.
When they measured the TaylorMade driver I used last year they said it was so light for what I should be using and they just laughed at my fairway woods and asked if I thought I was Tommy Fleetwood!
Needless to say, I’m not a big tinkerer when it comes to clubs and I loved my old irons but they were a club shorter than what I’ve got now and that was very noticeable towards the end of the season when we were playing some longer courses. I look at them now and the heads look tiny.
So everything’s in place.
I’ve only missed one cut so far but you need to have some good results rather than just covering your costs.
A top 70 on the Order of Merit would be a good start as that keeps you your card, while the top 45 gets you into the end-of-season Grand Final.
It will be tough but it’s great to be able to have a go – as a professional golfer that’s all I can ask for.
Nick McCarthy plays on the Challenge Tour and is a member of Moortown. He is an ambassador for Fortress Wealth Partnership LLP, a company delivering bespoke financial advice to individuals and businesses. He was talking to NCG’s Mark Townsend.