The European Challenge Tour prides itself on its diverse membership, with players from all over the world competing on the Road to Oman, but there remain very few Americans who make the journey across the Atlantic in the early stages of their careers.
Julian Suri, now in his second season on the Challenge Tour, is the latest exception, and looks like being an exceptional talent – following a runner-up finish in the Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort two weeks ago, the American is currently second in the Road to Oman Rankings.
The 26 year old backed that up with a solid showing at the European Tour’s Rocco Forte Open – Verudra, Sicily and arrives at Golf & Spa Kunětická Hora for this week’s D+D REAL Czech Challenge confident he can keep this rich vein of early-season form going.
“The game feels really good,” said the Duke University alumnus. “The result in Portugal was good for the momentum, and a positive sign for all the work I’d put in in the six weeks prior when I was back home in the States.
“Portugal was solid and really, with the exception of one round, Sicily last week was the same and it could have been really good – it was just the first round, the second round I really got it going and shot 62 and had a decent finish but I’m ready to tidy things up for this week.
“Matt Wallace looked like he was running away with it in Portugal so on that last day I definitely wanted to scare him a little bit! I think I did, at least it made him play some golf coming in.
“I’d played with him for the first three days and he played great but that final day was huge, especially to make some putts which was big for me.
“Even though I scored alright the first three days, I really didn’t feel like I was making a lot of putts. I made a little adjustment and that really paid off so I’m pumped with the signs that that’s working.
“It definitely gave me a lot of confidence and it’s helped out with my schedule, sets me up pretty nicely for the year, so I’m looking forward to what’s to come.”
Like so many golfers of his generation, and by no means only Americans, Suri grew up idolising the record-breaking exploits of Tiger Woods – whose mantra he has unashamedly adopted as his own.
“It’s so early in the season right now,” he said. “I’m just trying to take every week for what it is and honestly just trying to win every week, that’s my goal – a wise man once said, ‘winning takes care of everything,’ so I’m going off that creed!”
As Suri arrives in Drítec for the first of two Czech tournaments on the 2017 Road to Oman – the Prague Golf Challenge follows in six weeks’ time – the Challenge Tour’s expansive schedule of 27 tournaments across 21 different countries becomes extremely apparent.
For the Floridian, this was part of the attraction – to broaden not only his golfing horizons but also his life experiences in a way the developmental tours in America may not be able to match.
“A couple of things brought me over to the Challenge Tour,” he said. “The qualifying process in the U.S. has changed in the last couple of years and I saw this as a way not only to advance my golf game but also to travel the world a little bit.
“I’ve had a blast doing it so far – just in the last couple of months I’ve been all throughout Europe, to Australia, South Africa, Kenya, places I never would have thought about going to if I’d just stayed in America, so I’m really glad I made this decision.
“I think it can only help me grow, that variation of courses and conditions, that travelling. It’s different to what I’m used to but I’m a very open-minded person and I’ve enjoyed all those experiences and I think they’ve helped me grow as a person, not just as a golfer.”
Inspiration will not be hard to find this week. On arrival at Golf & Spa Kunětická Hora you cannot fail to notice the name ‘Brooks Koepka’ on the wall, the course record holder following his 62 in this tournament four years ago.
Suri knows Koepka well having come through the same junior ranks as him in Florida, and the fast ascent his compatriot made – progressing from the Challenge Tour to the European Tour to now sit 16th in the Official World Golf Ranking – makes him something of a trailblazer for Americans considering pursuing the European route to the top.
“I’ve known Brooks for a long time,” he said. “I played a lot of golf with him as we both grew up in Florida – I had dinner with his brother Chase last night in fact, he’s playing this week.
“What is the course record, 62? Alright, that’s something to shoot for! He’s done a hell of a job to get in the top 20 in the world, make the Ryder Cup team, so that’s definitely something that would be a goal of mine.
“It can really happen fast too – it’s what, four years since he was here on the Challenge Tour? He’s an inspiration. Like I said, winning takes care of everything so hopefully I can have another good week here.”
The one man above Suri in the Road to Oman Rankings, Aaron Rai, will head the field this week on the back of his second win of the season at the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9.
The Englishman is once again paired with Gavin Moynihan for the first two rounds, having beaten the Irishman 2&1 in the final in Spain to claim a second trophy in just four events this year.
Thomas Linard will look to capitalise on the positive memories of his victory three years ago on his return to the Czech Republic while the rapidly-progressing Adrian Meronk, who lives just three hours away across the Polish border, will hope to benefit from some local support.