Season preview: Challenge Tour grads should shine

Tommy Fleetwood’s name at the top of the European Challenge Tour’s Order of Merit validates what many have predicted of the young Englishman: He could have a big future on the European Tour.

Golf fans will get a chance to watch Fleetwood often on the main tour this year. As the player who topped the Challenge Tour’s Class of 2011, he’ll play a full European Tour schedule.

Fleetwood’s talent has been obvious to aficionados in the British Isles for years. He had an excellent amateur career: runner-up in the 2008 British Amateur at age 17, winner of the 2009 Scottish Amateur Stroke Play by eight shots and winner of the 2010 English Amateur. He played 37 times for England and represented Great Britain & Ireland in the 2009 Walker Cup.

Fleetwood came close to winning on the Challenge Tour while still an amateur. He three-putted the 72nd green in the 2010 English Challenge and finished second. He went one better when it mattered this season with a victory at the Kazakhstan Open. As runner-up in the season-ending Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, Fleetwood earned the top card of 20 to the 2012 European Tour.

Fleetwood, 20, of Southport, England, is the youngest winner of the Challenge Tour rankings in the tour’s 22-year history.

Italy’s Andrea Pavan should challenge Fleetwood for Rookie of the Year next season. Pavan, 22, of Rome, is a former Texas A&M star. He took the season finale by a shot over Fleetwood to place second on the Challenge Tour rankings. Pavan, too, has been touted since his amateur days as a player to watch.

Here are five others who should garner attention in ’12:

Jamie Moul, 27, England: He finished eighth on Europe’s junior circuit. The former No. 1 amateur played in the 2007 Walker Cup with current professionals Rory McIlroy, Rhys Davies and Danny Willett. Moul has taken longer to get his tour card but could do well next year.

Jorge Campillo, 26, Spain: Followers of U.S. college golf will remember Campillo at Indiana, where he was a two-time All-American and runner-up in the 2008 NCAA Championship.

Romain Wattel and Victor Dubuisson: One or both of the 21-year-old Frenchmen could find the winner’s circle next year. They qualified for the tour last year and should hold on to their cards for next season. Both are strong players who should benefit from having one full season under their belts on the main tour.

On the amateur side, remember Dermot McElroy. Given Northern Ireland’s current standing in the game, it might not come as a surprise that a player from that small country could make headlines on the amateur scene. Experts in these isles think McElroy could one day follow in his near namesake’s footsteps. McElroy won the 2010 Irish Boys Championship. Last year, he returned a 10-under 61 in the final round of the Peter McEvoy Trophy to finish fourth in the prestigious under-18 championship.

The 17-year-old was a late addition to the GB&I Walker Cup squad but wasn’t selected to the eventual 10-man team. He should have an excellent chance of playing in the 2013 match, by which time he might be playing college golf. You heard it here first.

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