Henrik Bjørnstad made history as the first Norwegian to play on the US PGA Tour, but now he has swapped playing for coaching as he helps his young countrymen fulfil their potential.
The 32 year old plied his trade in Europe around the turn of the century, his best season on The European Tour coming in 2002 when he was 61st on the Order of Merit, but moved across the Atlantic in 2005.
He decided to hang up his clubs at the end of last year, and has returned to Oslo, where he grew up, to work with the Norwegian Golf Federation (NGF) and the country’s talented young players.
This week’s Norwegian Challenge at Hauger Golf Club is the first tournament in Norway on the Challenge Tour since 2007 and Bjørnstad, who is rooting for a home winner, explained his role with the NGF.
“I’m in charge of a junior group and I’m also involved with the Olympic team, helping them,” he said. “Many of those players are playing this week. They are between the ages of 20 and 25, so they are young guys who are just finding their feet in the game. Anything they want to know, any questions about their swing or game, I can help them.
“I don’t like to go into too much detail about the technicalities of a player’s swing and technique, especially not the day before a big tournament. But if there is any part of their game they feel unsure about, I am there to assist.
“Golf-wise I can help with their strategic play on the course. I can put myself in their position and all professional golfers think in a similar way on the course. I can help them get the most out of their game and be more efficient. The biggest difference between amateurs and professionals is that the pros play more efficiently.
“Their bad rounds are much better than an amateur’s bad round – if they are playing badly they still manage to keep it around par rather than six, seven, eight over.”
There are few Norwegian players in the upper echelons of golf, so Bjørnstad’s advice to the country’s young players will be invaluable. And although he is relatively young to retire from the game and misses the competitive element of life on tour, he admits his new job brings a new kind of satisfaction.
“I stopped playing at the end of last year and we moved back in February,” said Bjørnstad, who won the 1996 Norwegian Amateur Championship and later represented his country in the 2001 World Cup. “The weather is maybe not as good as in Florida, but it’s great to be back among friends and family. I lived in the States for five years and had a great time, but it’s nice to be home.
“I played two years on the Challenge Tour and five years on The European Tour so I know what it is like. It was always a dream in the back of my mind to play in America. I stopped playing for a while in 2004 and when I started again in 2005 I thought ‘Let’s give it a go over there’. It worked out – I came through a qualifying tournament to get my PGA Tour card – so I moved over there.
“I enjoy being on the other side of the game right now. Things are a bit different now and I have a family with two young kids. I miss competing but I don’t miss the travelling and all that comes with it.
“This week I’m quite happy to be helping the other guys for the tournament rather than playing in it. I would have had to do at least a couple of weeks of preparation as my game is pretty rusty. It’s nice just to help out and hopefully one of the Norwegian guys can win it.
“Golf in Norway is doing pretty well right now. We have Espen (Kofstad) playing really well this season and we have many young guys, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they develop over the next couple of years. And it’s going to be great to be part of that development.”