And, with the added incentive in June of three 54-hole events from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Tour with prize money of R500,000 each, there is plenty to play for as the 11-tournament schedule gets underway for the field of 111 players.
Beginning in 2016, the top five professionals on the MENA Order of Merit receive Sunshine Tour cards for the following season, with those sixth to 15th earning entry into the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School. The MENA Tour was included in the Official World Golf Ranking beginning in April 2016, awarding three first place points for 54-hole events and five for 72-hole events.
Hammond came away with the victory last September after trumping Christiaan Bezuidenhout in a sudden-death showdown on the 18th of The Els Club, Copperleaf.
“I’m very chuffed with the win,” said Hammond back then. “The Big Easy Tour is huge for guys like us, who aren’t doing so well on the main tour. It’s a great development programme and enables us to feel like we can compete with the bigger players.”
The 24-year-old managed a par on the first extra hole to claim the trophy and a healthy cheque, which helped him to take up a coveted spot in the top five on the Order of Merit, thereby securing playing privileges for the Sunshine Tour’s 2016 season.
Despite that, it hasn’t been a good start to the year for Hammond, who has missed the cut on the three occasions he has made it into the main draw on the Sunshine Tour, so getting back to the drawing board on a tour which has produced Sunshine Tour Champions like Dean Burmester is a good thing.
Hammond will be joined in the field by a number of other young players looking to find a way onto the main tour, and by some older players seeking to re-establish themselves on the main tour.