Kristof Ulenaers: “Challenge Tour? It’s tough”

Kristof Ulenaers is feeling invigorated ahead of the 2022 Road to Mallorca season as he hopes to earn one of the 20 coveted DP World Tour cards, building on solid foundations put in place this year. The Belgian had a year to remember after securing a maiden professional victory at the Challenge de Cádiz on his first European Challenge Tour start after taking the step up from the amateur ranks. The 23-year-old had been plying his trade on the Pro Golf Tour at the start of the year and finished in second place at the Dreamland Pyramids Classic in Egypt after Portugal’s Tomas Gouveia, who will tee it up on the Challenge Tour next year, prevailed in the play-off. Ulenaers believes performing in the highly pressured environment created by the play-off, enabled him to prevail just a week later in Spain on the Challenge Tour.

Kristof Ulenaers, statements

“After graduating from College, I played five times on the Pro Golf Tour in my first year and that was definitely valuable experience,” he said. “I then started my first full season on the Pro Golf Tour and I managed to get into a play-off in one of the events in Egypt. Although I lost the play-off, it enabled me to gain confidence and put me in that high-pressure scenario for the first time.”

The Belgian burst onto the scene in Cádiz with back-to-back rounds of 65 over the first two days, followed by a 67 to take a seven-shot lead into the final day. The 23-year-old posted a level par round of 72, despite a triple-bogey on the 11th, to finish five-shots clear of Germany’s Hurly Long fora remarkable maiden professional victory. Ulenaers admits he will treasure the victory for the rest of his life and thanked his caddie, Zach Karkaletsos, who offered vital guidance and reassurance throughout.

“A week after Egypt, I got my first victory on the Challenge Tour in Cádiz,” said Ulenaers. “I didn’t change anything from the week before and everything just ran so smoothly for me. I went in with a really good mentality and had a caddie that could calm my nerves throughout the difficult moments. Looking back at it now, it is something I will remember for the rest of my life, I look back at that scorecard every month.

“I didn’t know anyone in the field, so I was just focusing on me, my game, my caddie and taking it shot by shot. I got to a nine-shot lead with two holes to go, it was an amazing feeling.”

A week later Ulenaers impressed again with a tie for fifth at the Challenge de España, finishing two-shots behind eventual winner and Road to Mallorca Number Three Santiago Tarrio, and the Belgian thensat in 12th position on the Road to Mallorca Rankings in a strong position to earn promotion to the top tier.

The 23-year-old then suffered a sharp dip in form, only making two cuts in his next eight appearances as he began to slip down the Rankings. The Belgian showed signs of resurrecting his form at the British Challenge Presented by Modest! Golf Management after opening rounds of 71-68, however he carded over par rounds of 73-72 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 53rd at The Belfry.

Ulenaers struggled to adapt to the rigorous nature of the Challenge Tour as it took a toll on his mental and physical game, admitting that he should have taken time off to recuperate during the season.

“I was in a really rough spot last year after the win,” he said. “I don’t think many people have come straight from the third tier to suddenly winning on their first Challenge Tour start and having a small European Tour card.

“After that win, I definitely made some errors in scheduling my tournaments for the rest of the year. I just wanted to keep going after that week but it was a big shock to me both mentally and physically. My whole life changed, so much came my way and everything changed at once.

“At the beginning I thought I was going to adapt but I never really took any time off. I should have taken two weeks to myself at some point to sit down with my coaches or figure out my next goal.”

Ulenaers is proud of what he has achieved after reflecting on a memorable breakthrough season and is looking to use it as a catalyst to continue his surge up the Official World Golf Ranking, admitting he will be in a much stronger position in 2022, having had a year’s Challenge Tour experience under his belt.

The 23-year-old plans to attack the 2022 Road to Mallorca with a well-thought-out schedule which will enable him to achieve peak performance levels with consistency throughout the season.

“Throughout the season it started to get to the point where I was just showing up, but I wasn’t actually ready to compete,” said Ulenaers. “I definitely won’t be making that mistake again next year.

“The Challenge Tour is tough. The tournaments come quickly and there are some really experienced guys out there, who know how to plan their schedule. They know how many weeks they need to take off to perform at their best.

“Now the season is over, I have had time to sit down and really reflect on the awesome season that I had. I came from absolutely nowhere to now being in the top 401 players on the Official World Golf Rankings.”

Ulenaers has a passion for business away from the golf course and is the founder of Sportmonkey, a women’s gym clothing brand, but admits it became difficult to manage last year due to the relentless Challenge Tour schedule. Having now employed someone to assist him next year, Ulenaers can now give his full attention to the Challenge Tour.

“I have hired someone to help me out with my business to allow me to focus on the golf,” he said. “It’s important I’m not worried about the business when I’m on the golf course and having that extra person ensures my concentration can remain on golf throughout the season. I still want to grow the business in the time that I have off because I have a real passion for it, it is fun to do and it brings in income.”