Marcus Kinhult returns to Al Hamra Golf Club – scene of his then-best ever finish on the European Challenge Tour – knowing that a strong performance at the Ras Al Khaimah 2017 Golf Challenge will secure him a return to the European Tour.
The Swede has been one of the form players on the Road to Oman since returning from a back injury in August, finishing in the top six in three of his last four starts to climb to tenth place in the Rankings.
With just two events to go before the top 15 earn places in the Race to Dubai for 2018, the 21 year old, who earned a European Tour card through Qualifying School two years ago, knows that one more good result will be enough to graduate – though rather than looking over his shoulder, he is aiming to close the gap on those above him.
“I don’t think I’ve done enough yet,” he said. “I think I will need at least one good finish in either of these last two so that’s the aim, like every week, to play as well as I can.
“Finishing in the top 15 is obviously the goal but it is a lot better to finish as high as you can so I’m also trying to get as high as possible and climb the Rankings, not just try to protect where I am – I need to go on the attack a bit.”
Kinhult started 2016 on the European Tour but, having excelled as an amateur, struggled with the transition to professional golf and spent the second half of the season regaining some confidence on the Challenge Tour.
The inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge was something of a watershed moment for him. Leading going into the final round, Kinhult ultimately could not live with a closing onslaught from playing partner Jordan Smith, who sealed his position as the 2016 Challenge Tour Rankings winner with his second victory of the season.
Given Smith’s continued rise to the top of the golfing world since then, there was no shame in Kinhult finishing behind the Englishman, and his tied fourth finish gave him a big confidence boost that has clearly translated into his impressive form this year.
Back on familiar ground in Ras Al Khaimah and on the cusp of a European Tour return, Kinhult feels he is now better equipped to deal with the strains of life as a top professional golfer.
“I think I have improved quite a lot,” he said. “Not just as a player, but probably more as a person and learning to deal with all the stuff that goes around being a golfer.
“I’m now more used to playing on tour and I’ve learned a lot in the last two years so I think if I get a card for next year then I can hopefully do something good – or at least better than I did before!
“I would love to be able to have another chance on the European Tour already. It was a good lesson and I think I needed that punch in the face to bring me back down to earth a bit.
“It possibly did come a bit too early for me, but there was a lot of stuff going on for me at that time – first year as a professional, first year on the European Tour, changing equipment. A lot of different things and I found it hard to handle everything.
“It was tough to play my best in those conditions, to score, but I’m much more settled now and I would love to be up on the European Tour again and see what I can do now.
“Jordan has been phenomenal this year. Last year was nice – it wasn’t the best final day I’ve had but it was a great experience and hopefully I can put myself in the same position again and we’ll see if I can handle it better.
“I’m very happy with my form right now. In July it wasn’t looking that good – I was injured, my back, and I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to come back and if I would be able to play well.
“It’s worked out pretty well since and the back is a lot better too, which is the most important thing. The last few months have gone really well so I’m now looking forward to these last two events.”
A very strong field, headed by Rankings leader Tapio Pulkkanen, has assembled in the UAE for a highly significant week for almost every single player.
Only the top 45 in the Rankings will compete in next week’s NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, with just 32 points separating Ricardo Santos and Francesco Laporta either side of the qualifying line as this week represents the last chance to secure places in the exclusive event in Muscat.
The top 70 in the Rankings, meanwhile, retain full Challenge Tour playing rights for the 2018 season, adding importance to the likes of five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey, for instance, who currently occupies the 70th and final spot.
At the top of the Rankings, the seven players with more than 100,000 points have already guaranteed themselves European Tour golf for next season, with at least 90,000 points looking like it will be required to secure a top 15 spot.
Pedro Oriol shared fourth place with Kinhult here last year and is one spot behind the youngster in the Rankings, the Spaniard among many knowing that a repeat result this week will ease a lot of pressure going into the Grand Final.