As golfing apprenticeships go, few can rival the authenticity of being a greenkeeper for five years – and that is exactly what European Tour rookie Jeff Winther can draw on as he embarks on his first season in The Race to Dubai.
The Dane required a tie for third place in the season-ending NBO Golf Classic Grand Final – sealed with a bogey-free six under par final round of 66 – to finish in 11th place in the Road to Oman Rankings and graduate from the European Challenge Tour.
That result in Muscat was Winther’s third finish inside the top three in 2015 which, combined with a tie for fifth place in the Fred Olesen Challenge de España and a seventh place finish in the penultimate event of the season, The Foshan Open, earned the 27 year old a maiden season in the big time.
Two seasons on the Nordic Golf League, where he won three times, earned Winther promotion to the Challenge Tour for the 2014 season before his consistency throughout 2015 saw him win a deserved European Tour card.
“I’m over the moon,” he said. “When I spoke my wife, she couldn’t even make a sentence, it was fantastic!
“I tried not to look at the leaderboards during the final round but you can’t really avoid it, but I played phenomenal golf. I didn’t really make any mistakes, and I have a brilliant caddie who was a rock beside me.
“I didn’t have any nerves at all, which definitely helped. I was just trying to get a good round in because I knew a five or six under par round was probably going to cut it. I knew I needed to finish in at least the top seven to make The European Tour.
“I was a greenkeeper at Nivå Golf in Kokkedahl, where I’m from, for five years, and never really thought of playing professional golf at that point.
“It was when this guy came up to me and said ‘if you want to play pro I’ll sponsor you a little bit,’ that I was able to try, so he actually got me started. Then I won the fifth tournament I played as a pro, so that got me on the book a little bit.
“Then I got fired as a greenkeeper the following winter, because of the financial crisis, so I thought I might as well go for it as I had nothing to lose.
“I won two tournaments that year on the Nordic League, finished in the top five to get onto the Challenge Tour and now I’m going to The European Tour! It’s just awesome, beyond my wildest dreams, I’m over the moon and can’t really explain it.”
Winther is a relaxed presence on and off the golf course, a smile never far from the big man’s face, and he credits retreating to a stream or lake with his fishing rod as a primary source of relaxation away from the game.
“I love fishing,” he said. “I always bring rods with me in the bag so that every tournament we can go fishing if we have the chance – I think we’ve been fishing every tournament this year, just finding small ponds or whatever we can, and get totally away from it and do something else.“It can get quite tiring all of this, and I didn’t really play too much golf when I was a greenkeeper because I didn’t want to mix hobby and work, so now fishing is the release.”