With the Vierumäki Finnish Challenge set to begin on Thursday, the buzz surrounding a potential home-grown champion is growing as two native sons continue to enjoy fine seasons on the European Challenge Tour.
Kim Koivu, who lives an hour away from the famed Vierumäki Resort, comes into the week as the ninth ranked player on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah.
After an early win at the Belt & Road Colorful Yunnan Open, the second tournament on the Challenge Tour International Schedule, Koivu was afforded the luxury of being able to set his playing schedule for the rest of the year— hand-picking the weeks he wanted off for rest.
However, skipping this week, and Finland’s biggest professional golf tournament, was never an option.
“I know this course quite well, I’ve played here many times over the years,” Koivu said. “It’s one of the best courses in Finland for sure, I think the lay-out is great. The guys that play well here hit a lot of drivers because you can get it quite close to the green and it’s fairly open, so I think it suits me well.”
The 27 year old, who will sleep in his own bed in between tournament rounds, believes that golf in his home country has never been stronger, despite a short playing season.
“Obviously weather is a challenge, we only have six months a year where you can really play golf and the greens are only good for maybe three months,” he said. “But the popularity has grown quite a bit. We used to only have one guy who played on the European Tour, now we have three, plus we also have more guys on the Challenge Tour.
“I think more players are believing in themselves and believing that they can get to the top level, and the next generation will take on that mentality.”
Leading the way for Finnish golf on the Challenge Tour is Kalle Samooja, who occupies the fifth position on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah with an impressive seven top 25 finishes to his name.
As the only player in the top seven on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah without a win, the 30 year old credits a pre-season target for his consistent success thus far.
“I had a goal in my mind when I started the season, which was to break 100,000 points, and I’m still working towards that,” Samooja said. “The ultimate goal is to finish in the top 15, but I understand that there is a big difference between first and 15th.
“You don’t want to take it too easily and be the last one in, so you’ve got to secure your spot as early as possible.
“I like this golf course so hopefully I can finish the job here with a win and continue to work towards the top of the rankings.”
Samooja and Koivu will both aim to replicate the success of countryman, and last year’s Challenge Tour Rankings winner, Tapio Pulkkanen, as they join 18 other Finns at the Vierumäki Finnish Challenge.
There has never been a home-champion in the ten-year history of the event, but with the current state of golf in the Nordic country, that may very well have changed by Sunday night.