Galgorm Castle nets an exciting prospect this week
Former US amateur champion Byeong-hun An shot a final round 64 to win the Rolex Trophy by three shots yesterday, to give the Ulster crowds a taste of what they might expect when the European Challenge Tour rolls into Glagorm Castle later this week.
The 23-year-old began the day seven shots off the lead, but hit eight birdies with no dropped shots in his final round in Geneva to win by three.
It makes him the first Korean to win on the Challenge Tour and takes him up to fourth place in the Order of Merit standings as he chases a place on the European Tour next season.
"It is my first professional win and I'm so happy," said the Seoul-born player.
"I had a lot chances to win this season but every time I finished second or fourth.
"I played really well every time but I felt that I threw it away. I was pretty mad after the last three holes of the third round, dropping four shots, which was very disappointing. This time again, I played really well and it was good enough to win.
"I think I was lucky that I had this great round when the other guys were struggling. I couldn't have done better today in these windy and chilly conditions.
"I have been playing well for weeks now but I felt this morning that I hit it well at the practice range. I wanted to do my best and I took advantage on the easy holes.
"But honestly I never holed more than from six feet for birdie. Maybe once, I needed to hole a ten-footer on a par five but that was it.
"The last time I won was five year ago as an amateur. It is amazing to be the first Korean player to win on Challenge Tour. I am so happy with that."
An's eight under finishing score of an indicator of hos good the standard is on the European second tier.
Michael Hoey is hoping that the set-up this week at Galgorm is as tough as possible to give the players a challenge worth the name.
"Last year they did let the rough grow up a little more than usual and I hope they do the same thing again," he said.
"Obviously it would be nice if the weather is good with a lot of people turning up to watch, but that can play its part as well."
An is odds-on to claim one of the 15 places on offer on the European Tour through the overall Challenge Tour rankings, and competition for those places in now hotting up.
German Moritz Lampert leads the way on 133,835 euros with England's Andrew Johnston just a couple of hundred behind in second place.
Spain's Jordi Garcia Pinto is third on 100,322, with An a further 15,000 or so adrift in fourth.
But less than 10,000 euros covers the final five automatic places and with 130,000 euros on offer at County Antrim this week, all the leading contenders will be there.
Lurgan's Gareth Shaw is the highest placed Northern Irishman on this year's Challenge Tour, but he has just 11,09 euros from 12 events this year and lies 94th in the overall rankings.