The announcement of the Viking Challenge certainly caught the eye of Espen Kofstad, a three-time winner on the European Challenge Tour, with Norway’s top golfer recognising the benefit the tournament will bring to his country.
The 29 year old, now back on the European Tour after a few injury-plagued seasons, knows all about the important role the Challenge Tour can play in developing the best young golfing talent, and he spoke to us about Norwegian golf, the Viking Challenge and the test awaiting the players when they arrive at Miklagard Golf in August.
It’s been three years but the Challenge Tour is coming back to Norway in August. How excited were you when you saw the news?
It’s great news, and I think it’s really good for the boys to be able to test themselves a little bit. Like you said, it’s been a couple of years since we had a Challenge Tour event and it’s nice for all the guys that are playing on the Nordic Golf League to get a chance to see where their game is at and what they might need to improve to get to that level, because we don’t really have that many guys on the Challenge Tour right now.
Is there a big difference in quality when you get to the Challenge Tour?
I think mostly it’s just a matter of confidence, because you have good guys that come through the Nordic League and do well on the Challenge Tour all the time – Simon Forsström winning a tournament last year, Kristoffer Broberg not long ago, Alexander Björk now doing really well. I think it’s a matter of understanding how close the gap really is and then playing well.
And the opportunity to compete against the Challenge Tour’s best can only help…
This game is all about opportunities, whatever tour you play on. If you play on the European Tour it’s a great chance to maybe play in a World Golf Championship, if you play in the Nordic Golf League you now have a great chance to be able to play on the Challenge Tour.
How important a role did the Challenge Tour play in developing your game?
The Challenge Tour, especially when I came out of college – and I was pretty good, I had a high World Amateur Golf Ranking – coming into professional golf it helped me realise that these guys are really, really good. It’s much less top heavy than amateur golf is, so you really feel the bad rounds. I had to learn how to put four rounds together rather than two or three, which was a huge difference, and you have to put that into your whole game, like your practice, your mental preparations, to be able to perform for four days in a row because that’s pretty hard.
So now you’re back on the European Tour, are you feeling the benefits?
It absolutely prepared me for the European Tour. This year I started off pretty good, and it’s all about taking the confidence of winning and getting good finishes. Now that I’ve been a professional since 2010, I see all these names that I’ve played with on the Challenge Tour and in college who are doing really good, and you see that the gap is not that big to performing right at the top level every week.
Everyone’s been through the same things, come up the same way, so you just have to go through the tournaments and play and try to win and see where it takes you, because in a matter of two weeks you can have a guy win on the Challenge Tour in August and then get his European Tour card, and then no one knows what happens.
What advice would you give to the Challenge Tour players who are about to start their seasons?
I think the key on the Challenge Tour is just trying to hit the fairways, trying to hit the greens and just being really patient – one week you’re going to have that 65-64 weekend that’s going to make you win.
So the most important thing is not to try to play perfect golf every week, just get the ball out there between the treeline, get it on the green, then a few days a month the putts are going to go in and you’re going to have a fantastic week.
What kind of a challenge will Miklagard Golf pose for the Viking Challenge?
I’ve played a lot of golf there, I know it well. It’s definitely a ball striker’s course. It helps hitting it pretty far, and the greens are big so lag putting up and down tiers is going to be pretty important, but for me there’s an absolute premium on iron play. Everyone’s going to hit a lot of fairways out there because the fairways are huge, and whoever can manage to hit their approach shots onto the right section of the greens is going to do pretty well.
Miklagard Golf (credit Simon B.Jensen)