Having attended the same University as Phil Mickelson and been signed up by the company which manages ‘Lefty’, Norway’s Knut Borsheim has a lot to live up to.
Borsheim was snapped up by Gaylord Sports last year after graduating with a degree in Finance from Arizona State University, where England’s Paul Casey honed the technique which would later lead him to Ryder Cup and European Tour glory.
The highlight of Borsheim’s collegiate career came in his final year, when he birdied five of his last six holes to help Arizona State reach the NCAA Finals.
The 24 year old from Bergen also earned individual honours, being named the 2009/10 Men’s Golf Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a 2010 ESPN Third-Team Academic All-American.
Of his time in the States, Borsheim recalls: “I didn’t manage to win on the collegiate circuit but I finished second twice, and it was such a great learning experience for me because the standard is very high. It’s a really good preparation for the Challenge Tour, because although the strength in depth is much greater out here than it is at college, the winning scores are usually fairly similar.
“Probably the biggest difference out here on the Challenge Tour is that if you bogey the last hole you drop about ten places down the leaderboard, whereas at college it wouldn’t be that costly. But I like that, because the level of competition really focuses your mind.”
After leaving Arizona State last December, Borsheim set about trying to climb the golfing ladder, only for a sudden and unexplained illness to hamper his development.
He said: “I just felt tired all the time. I could hardly get out of bed in the morning, and had no energy to practise or play golf. I just had to be nice to my body for a while, because I think I was probably exhausted from college, and studying, and playing a lot of golf. I’ve got another scan in October to try to find out what the problem is, but at the moment I feel absolutely fine, which is probably why I’m playing much better now.”
Signs that Borsheim was starting to regain his form and fitness came at the Norwegian Challenge, where he opened with a round of 68 which, according to the man himself, could quite easily have been a 65 or even lower.
“I don’t think I holed anything longer than a ten-footer all day,” he said, “but at least it showed that I was moving in the right direction.”
After making his second successive cut at the ECCO Tour Championship the following week, Borsheim began to feel much better about life both on and off the course, where he is a keen follower of the stock markets.
And when Gaylord Sports secured him an invitation to this week’s lucrative Kazakhstan Open, Borsheim hit the practice range with renewed vigour to ensure that he was in the best possible shape to capitalise on his golden opportunity.
After playing his first practice round at Nurtau Golf Club Borsheim quietly fancied his chances, as the challenging course, with its narrow fairways and thick rough, played to his strengths: namely long, straight hitting.
A frustrating day on the greens explained a respectable opening effort of 70, but on the second day his putter came to life and he surged into contention with a sparkling round of 65. A solid round of 71 on the third day means he goes into today’s final round just three shots off the lead, and in with every chance of securing a European Tour card in one fell swoop.
He said: “I’ve been playing well without getting my rewards, so it was great to finally show what I can do in Kazakhstan. The course is quite similar to a lot of the ones we used to play on in the States, because the rough is really penal. I like that, because my driving is probably the strongest part of my game.
“Hopefully that will stand me in good stead for the rest of my pro career. My goal now is just to get onto The European Tour however I can, whether that be through the Challenge Tour Rankings or the Q School. It’d be nice if I could at least secure my Challenge Tour card for next season, because then that would take some of the pressure off.”
Having a familiar face around the place in the form of his friend and compatriot Espen Kofstad has also helped Borsheim relax and integrate on the Tour.
The two spent countless hours together treading the fairways as emerging amateurs in their native Norway, and Borsheim is now hopeful of emulating the achievements of Kofstad, who currently sits just outside the top 20 of the Challenge Tour Rankings in his debut season.
Borsheim said: “I know Espen very well, having played a lot of amateur golf with him. He also went to college in America so we obviously have a lot in common. We played a lot together in the national team, and it’s great that he’s played so well this season. It’s very inspiring, because I know that if he can do it on a consistent basis, then there’s no reason why I can’t as well. And it’s also nice to have a friend out here, because it’s helped me settle in much quicker. Hopefully we can both make it onto The European Tour this year – that would be a dream come true.”