Chase Koepka is hoping to follow his big brother's lead

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Chase Koepka (left) and Brooks Koepka at the Zurich Classic in April.
Chase Koepka (left) and Brooks Koepka at the Zurich Classic in April.

Chase Koepka will aim to emulate his US Open winning brother Brooks by tasting European Challenge Tour success at this week's Northern Ireland Open.

Brooks earned a European Tour card with three Challenge Tour titles in 2013.

European Tour and PGA Tour wins followed in Turkey and Phoenix before his Erin Hills triumph two months ago.

Chase, 23, who is three years younger than Brooks, has already gone close to a Challenge Tour win with three top-five finishes in his last nine events.

Koepka is the leading player in the Challenge Tour rankings in the field this week with his ninth position putting him marginally ahead of Scotland's 2014 British Amateur champion Bradley Neil and Argentina's Estanislao Goya, who occupy 11th and 12th spots in the money list.

The top 15 at season's end will automatically earn promotion to the main tour.

Galgorm event has final-day 'shootout' format

However, this week's event will be a Challenge Tour event like no other with the leading 24 players after the third round going into a final-day shootout format.

That will see the tournament being decided by a series of six-hole knockout medal play matches, which will go right the way down to the final on Sunday afternoon.

While youthful talents such as Koepka, Neil and Gavin Moynihan are aiming to win a main tour card for the first time, the Galgorm Castle field will also feature players who have previously dined at the top table.

2008 Irish Open champion Richard Finch will join a list of European Tour winners which includes Oliver Wilson, Rhys Davies, Simon Thornton, as well as tournament ambassador and Galgorm Castle touring professional Michael Hoey.

Richard Finch got his feet wet on his way to victory at the 2008 Irish Open.
Richard Finch got his feet wet on his way to victory at the 2008 Irish Open.

Finch, who memorably ended up in the water after playing his third shot to the 72nd green as he won at Adare Manor nine years ago, has been plagued by an Achilles injury in recent seasons.

Twelve missed cuts in as many events are testament to the Hull native's struggles so far in 2017 but he is continuing to battle on and his wife Debbie will be on caddie duty as they look for the one good week which can change the trajectory of a golfing season.

"Last year I didn't really play at all because I had the tendonitis in my Achilles in my left foot," says 40-year Finch, who played the back nine on Monday after being one of the first arrivals at the Ballymena venue.

"I've come back playing this year and it's been pretty rubbish but hopefully it is going to get better, starting this week.

"We arrived last night and the hotel is superb and the facilities and the course look superb.

"It's a little bit wet at the minute but the forecast is for it to improve so hopefully it will dry out a bit. The greens are surprisingly dry and in brilliant condition so that's a big plus."

Venue 'holding up well' despite recent wet weather

Finch's glowing comments about this week's venue and the entire tournament set-up will be music to the ears of tournament director and Galgorm Castle's managing director Gary Henry.

"The course is holding up well. With the bad weather, it takes us longer to set up the course without damaging it but it will play soft which most professionals like because they can get a bit more control of the ball," says Henry.

"In the ideal world we would have it a bit firmer but every August it seems to rain and keep raining.

"The rough is thick and juicy and the further you hit it off line, it gets really severe. So the strategy this week will be to hit it straight."

Horan hopes to unearth 'next Michelle Wie'

The new sixes shootout format on the course will also be matched by innovations around of the social side of the tournament.

These include a players' barbeque on Tuesday evening and Saturday's VIP party hosted by pop star Niall Horan, whose Modest Golf management company are again centrally involved in this year's tournament.

"Niall is hosting the shooting draw on Saturday night and straight after that there is a VIP focused party with Niall and his friends and the sponsors and the players which is being run by one of the top nightclubs in London," continues Henry.

"There is a lot more showbiz glitz to this year's event although we will still have the more traditional pro-am dinner for 200 people at Galgorm Resort & Spa on Wednesday night."

Horan's presence last year drew hundreds of young fans who you wouldn't normally see at golf events and the Mullingar man is expected to be on site for most of the week, including on Sunday when he will present the winner with the new trophy.

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