Espen Kofstad is convinced the future is bright for golf in Norway, and hopes this week’s Norwegian Challenge will be the catalyst for his country following the success of other Scandinavian nations.
Norway has always trailed behind neighbours Sweden and Denmark in terms of producing golfing champions, but Kofstad, who will turn 24 on the first day of the event at Hauger Golf Club just outside Oslo, believes that could be about to change.
“I think Norway is close to producing more winners on the Challenge Tour and then hopefully we will take that form onto The European Tour and start to do it at the top level,” he said.
“Norwegian golf is in good shape: there are a lot of guys turning professional now who have been well coached, some who have gone to college in America and have enjoyed good amateur careers, so we should be ready to move on.”
Kofstad points to the lack of role models as a possible reason for Norway’s hitherto meagre success, but his recent form makes him one of the favourites to lead the revolution. He was tied ninth in the English Challenge, the last tournament before the recent two-week break on the Challenge Tour, tied fifth in the Scottish Hydro Challenge and an impressive tied 12th in the dual-ranking SAINT-OMER Open presented by Neuflize OBC.
“It is strange when you look at the countries around us – Sweden and Denmark being the best examples – and you see what they have done in the game,” he continued. “I think the only thing that held Norway back from that kind of success is having someone break out and lead the way for the other guys.
“When you look at Denmark, you immediately think about how Thomas Björn broke down the doors and then all of the other guys followed him. Now they have four or five guys playing every week who could all win any tournament on The European Tour.
“It is the same in Sweden. They have been doing it for a little longer but it was the same principal of the first guys having success and then they were followed by a generation of winners. I think that is what we have been missing in Norway.
“People look at Henrik Bjørnstad and they are right to say that he has been very successful, but most of that has come in the States and the guys in Europe aren’t around him every week and talking to him all the time to breed that confidence.
“That is the difference for me – as soon as one guy we all know really well makes the breakthrough then I am confident that we will all follow on from that.”
It will be the first Challenge Tour event in Norway since the 2007 Lexus Open, and Kofstad will be hoping to be only the second Norwegian to win on home soil since Paul Nilbrink won the 2000 Norwegian Open. Indeed, only four players from Norway have ever won on the Challenge Tour.
“It is always nice to play in your home country so I think all the Norwegian guys will be looking forward to this week,” he added. “I am probably the wrong person to ask about the golf course though – I think the last time that I played it I shot well over 80. It’s just as well that was about ten years ago!
“I remember it being tough, and I hear that it will be a good solid test and is in good conditions so hopefully it will produce a good winner, preferably from Norway.”
Frenchmen Edouard Dubois and Benjamin Hebert are both looking for their third Challenge Tour win of the season in the €175,000 tournament, which would give them immediate promotion to The European Tour, while Portugal’s Ricardo Santos, fresh from qualifying for the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, will be aiming to extend his lead at the top of the Rankings.
Young Norwegian amateur Kristoffer Ventura, who represented Europe in last year’s Junior Ryder Cup, will be making his Challenge Tour debut.