At a stage of the Challenge Tour season when the pressure is at its most intense, Roope Kakko and Mikael Lundberg were the coolest men in the field at the Toscana Open Italian Federation Cup.
Opening scores of five under par 67 left the Finn and the Swede a stroke ahead of seven players including Challenge Tour Number Two Felipe Aguilar of Chile, with form player Peter Whiteford - the winner of two of the last three events on the Schedule – among the 13 players tied on three under at Le Pavoniere Golf and Country Club.
Kakko and Lundberg could are in completely opposite situations at the penultimate event on the 2007 Challenge Tour Schedule.
Currently 108th on the Rankings, Kakko needs to win the €22,400 top prize to break into the top 45 players that will contest the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final next week, while Lundberg, currently 16th, needs a big week to guarantee his place in the all important top spots that will be rewarded with a 2008 European Tour card next week.
They may be in different situations, but both players espoused the mantra of “thinking only about myself” as they crafted rounds of five under par 67 at Le Pavionere.
Kakko was the first of the leaders to reach the clubhouse, where he spoke of his delight at being at the top of the leaderboard after a hugely disappointing season.
The 25 year old has managed to change his mindset from despondent to positive with the help of his girlfriend and caddie, Minea Blomqvist, who, as Kakko explained, is more than qualified to help her man turn his season around with a victory in Italy.
“Minea is helping me a lot by caddying this week,” said Kakko, wjho notched an eagle, five birdie and two bogeys in his opening score. “She knows what she is talking about because she plays on the ladies PGA Tour in America so it’s handy to have her here!
“She is such a positive person and we have created a very comfortable environment on the course, and is helping me not think too much about what I have to do this week. I probably need to win to make it to the Grand Final but all I want to think about is hitting the next fairway.
“It has been a really tough season for me. I have been working so hard on trying to turn things around that I have forgotten to enjoy the game.
“That’s what happens when you are not getting the results and it becomes a vicious circle: the harder you try to change it the worse the results become. It just feels good to be up there and to have found the right balance today.”
Lundberg is singing from the same song sheet as Kakko. The Swede is a vastly experienced former European Tour champion and is looking to use all of that experience to secure a return to The European Tour.
“I played well today and had to be patient at the start of the round. I had eight straight pars but didn’t let it bother me and then the birdies came. We are at that stage of the season now, when the guys are maybe not as friendly to one another as we usually are.
“It’s so important to everyone to succeed that you cannot help but want the guys around you on the Rankings to play worse than you, but the main thing you have to do is concentrate on yourself.
“If you can do that successfully and play well then you don’t need to worry about anyone else. It’s in your own hands, so hopefully I can keep playing as I did today.”