Chilean-born Swede Joel Sjoholm, who counts next door neighbour Thomas Björn as a mentor and friend, grabbed the lead on the opening day of the Credit Suisse Challenge with a scintillating eight under par 65.
Playing in only his second Challenge event, Sjoholm took time out from his studies at Georgia State University to post eight birdies at Wylihof Golf Club in Luterbach, Switzerland, and so establish a one-shot lead over the field.
The 23 year old, who at three months old was adopted by a Swedish family after leaving his native Chile, leads by one stroke from Germany’s Benjamin Miarka and Italian Marco Crespi.
Sjoholm, who recently picked up a cheque for €19,900 after finishing 24th at the BMW International Open on The European Tour, now has his sights set on securing his maiden Challenge Tour title and gaining exemption for the remainder of the season.
He said: “I’m just sitting at home waiting for invites, so hopefully I can win this week and not have to worry about relying on them. It seems far away at the moment, but hopefully soon I can gain a card onto the Challenge Tour and then get onto The European Tour. I had a taste of life was like there at the BMW International Open, after Thomas Björn helped get me an invite, and I loved every minute of it.
“Golf is all I’ve ever known. One day my parents took me to the golf course when I was three years old, and I haven’t really left the course since then. When I was about five they used to drop me off at 8am and pick me up at 8pm, and I’d spend all day on the course. I’m always out on the course, and I enjoy it because I’m always meeting new people. I feel so lucky for getting paid to do something I love.”
Like Sjoholm’s round Crespi’s 66 was also bogey-free, whilst Miarka endured a more up and down day, closing with two bogeys to finish alongside the Italian on seven under par.
The German said: “It should’ve been even better – to bogey the par five 17th hole when I was just short of the green on two was criminal. But I still have to be happy, because it’s the best I’ve felt on a golf course for a long time.”
The pair are trailed by one shot by a quintet of players: Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello, home hopes Julien Clément and Raphaël de Sousa, Scotland’s Scott Jamieson, and Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin, who attributed his improved form to a change of hairstyle.
In perfect playing conditions, the freshly-shorn man from Belfast carded six birdies in a flawless round of golf.
Maybin, who recently bought his first house, said: “My girlfriend told me to get a new haircut, and my game also seems to have got better as a result! It also helps that I’ve been getting some coaching from Colin Little, a guy from Ballyclair Golf Club. He’s a positive bloke, and he’s been working on getting my confidence up. Results recently have been good – and they need to be to keep up with the mortgage repayments!”
Maybin was joined on six under par by de Sousa, whose eventful round featured seven birdies, three bogeys and an eagle.
De Sousa said: “I was so annoyed with my bogey on the last hole – this has to be the first time I’ve been in a bad mood after a 67. But I’m sure I’ll forget about it in two minutes, once I’ve cooled down.”
Jamieson was merely happy to return to form, after missing the cut in his last four tournaments. The Scot was all smiles after picking up six birdies and managing to keep the bogeys off his card.
He said: “Obviously the eyes of the golfing world are on Loch Lomond back home this week, but it’d be nice to divert them to Switzerland for a wee while.”