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Wilson gives backing to second-to-none Galgorm

By Peter Hutcheon

If the European Challenge Tour regulars have their way, Galgorm Castle will become a permanent fixture on the tour, such was the impact the County Antrim course made with them at last year's Northern Ireland Open Challenge.

They tee off again for the second edition of the tournament next Thursday and even bigger crowds are expected this time around with one of the strongest fields of the year lined up.

Oliver Wilson, the former Ryder Cup player who is trying to work his way back to the big time again, says the set-up at Galgorm is second to none.

"This is the best Challenge Tour event I have played in, simple as that," said last year's runner-up in the build-up to this year's tournament.

"The facilities are first class and as good as you will find anywhere."

A Challenge Tour event is a strange mixture of young and up coming players trying to play their way into the big time mixed with old hands like Wilson who have lost their rights on the main tour and who are trying to climb back up the greasy pole.

Another former Ryder Cup man Philip Price, who famously beat Phil Mickelson in the 2002 singles at the Belfry, is also in the field.

It's also a first stab as a professional for Mourne's Reeve Whitson, a man who has been a firm fixture on the local amateur scene for years.

He turned pro after last month's North of Ireland Open at Royal Portrush and has been given an invite for next week alongside the four Ulster amateurs, Colm Campbell, Dermot McElroy, John-Ross Galbraith and Cormac Sharvin.

Lurgan's Gareth Shaw and Dubliner Niall Kearney are both in the field. Shaw has been short of the form he showed in finishing in the top five at last year's Irish Open while Kearney has been plying his trade of late on the Irish PGA Tour.

Notable names to look out for are England's Andrew Johnston, who is currently top of the Challenge Tour money-list and looking odds on for a place on the European Tour next season.

As well as tournament host Michael Hoey – returning to his Challenge Tour roots – the field also boasts three other European Tour winners in Swedish pair Johan Edfors and Pelle Edberg, along with Dutchman Martin Lafeber.

Hoey insists he is feeling no ill-effects from the foot injury which forced him to pull out of last month's Open Championship at Hoylake in the second round.

And he is keen to shrug off the embarrassment of last year when he failed to make the cut – although only because he called a penalty on himself.

"It doesn't matter what the event is, you want to put yourself under pressure by being at the business end ont he Sunday.

"And for me with it being a home tournament, there would be plenty of support for me out there if I can go into the final day near the top of the leaderboard.

"It was disappointing to miss the cut last year, obviously, but to see the way the players responded to the venue was something special. And I think we can expect there to be bigger crowds here.

"Thanks to Rory and Graeme, golf in Northern Ireland is bigger than it ever has been and it's good to see that being recognised by having more tournaments staged here."

Belfast Telegraph


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