Sweden’s Joakim Haeggman took his first step on the road to regaining his place amongst the golfing elite with victory at the AGF-Allianz Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne on the European Challenge Tour.
Haeggman, who made a miraculous up and down on the final hole at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André to save par, carded a final round 68 to finish on five under par and take the title by one shot from England’s Marcus Higley.
Higley shot a 67 – the lowest round of the day – to finish on four under par, with Sweden’s Andreas Högberg, Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin and Italy’s Allesandro Tadini in a tie for third two shots further back.
But the day belonged to Haeggman, whose last victory came at the Qatar Masters in 2004, since when a loss of form and fitness has seen him slide down the Rankings and lose his card on The European Tour.
The Swede, who now heads to Seville to compete at the Open de Espana on The European Tour, attributes his reversal in fortunes to his decision to reunite with Simon Holmes, who coached him for 16 years before the pair split in 2006.
He said: “The turning point has been my decision to go back to my old coach Simon, who I was with for a very long time. We went our separate ways about two years ago, maybe because we’d both lost a bit of focus and appetite for the game.
“But when I switched coaches, I found it it’s very difficult to pick up on someone else’s way of thinking after working with someone else for such a long time. So recently I went back to what I knew, and for the time being it seems to be working well with Simon. Obviously it’s still going to take a lot of work to get back to where I was, but the signs are good.
“I’m starting to find the fairways off the tee again now, which is a start. My short game is also improving all the time, and that’s the key to a low score. All in all, I can reflect on a pleasing week, because I hit a lot of quality shots in the tournament.”
None more so than that chip on the final hole, which required immaculate technique – not to mention nerves of steel.
Haegmann said: “There were a few nerves, because I haven’t been in a winning position for a while. But the main thing is that I’ve got my confidence back now, and I’m in the right frame of mind to start winning golf tournaments again.
“It’s not a case of reaching out blindly to find some form – it’s more a case of looking inside to bring out the game I know I have. If I can find it consistently, I know I’m good enough to compete and win again on The European Tour. That’s the ultimate goal, but I’m taking it one week, one day, one shot at a time.”
Such an approach is entirely understandable, given the speed and depth of Haeggman’s fall from grace – he was the first Swede to play in The Ryder Cup in 1993, but is now increasingly reliant on sponsor’s invitations to compete on The European Tour.
But there were mitigating factors, in that injury played a key part in his loss of form.
He explained: “My downfall started in 2006, when I had an inflammation in my left elbow. It could’ve been traced back originally to my days playing ice hockey, but at that time it came from hitting too many golf balls.
“I had two cortisone injections that summer, and went from the top 40 in the world to losing my card on The European Tour. I had earned £100,000 by March, but then finished the year with only £130,000. It took me a long time to recover from the injury, and obviously changing my coach at the same time disrupted me even further. But we’ve found each other again now, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Haeggman has thus come a long way from the “dark days” of 2006 and 2007, when he considered quitting the game altogether.
He said: “Of course I had some very dark days when I considered doing other things. After 18 years on the European Tour, no disrespect to the Challenge Tour, but it was a bit of a step back for me. But this was something I felt I had to do. I gave it one last year to see what happened, and I’m so glad I did.”