Charismatic Finnish star Tapio Pulkkanen writes this week’s Player Blog from Qatar, where the big-hitting, trilby hat-wearing 27 year old discusses golf in Finland, his long-hitting prowess, watching Dustin Johnson on the range, and much more…
I live in Helsinki, but I’m from the east side of Finland, about 200 kilometres from the capital. Helsinki is a very nice city, I like it a lot, especially in the summer, but I guess everyone says their city is beautiful in the summer! It’s good for me to be based there as well because we have good flight connections in Finland, especially to Asia, Europe and the US. Of course, the weather is not perfect in the winter time so we have to go away a lot to practice. I was in Florida for six weeks practicing last year, and I stayed in Spain for three weeks too, and then headed to Dubai at the start of this year.
I was nine years old when I started playing golf, with my brother actually starting one year before me and we both got into golf because our grandparents were really into the sport. They had an indoor golf thing going on in their garage, and that’s where we hit balls around. We also have a load of golfers on my mother’s side of the family. I remember one of the first times I played golf, I hit a shank with an iron and it hit a post and game back into the fairway! I can also remember when I was 12 years old I made a hole-in-one, so that was my first really positive memory of the game.
Everyone knows all about the trilby hat I wear when playing and guess I’ve been a bit of a hat maniac for a long time. Our old Captain at our home club in Finland has an American wife and he used to like a lot of these kinds of western hats, and I like those ones too. I’ve always admired a different sort of hat, and I started wearing the trilby hat when I was 15 or 16, and I don’t think I’ll ever change it. It gets a lot of positive comments from people but also some negatives, with some people saying he must play like Sam Snead if he’s going to wear that hat! But mostly it’s all positive vibes.
I’m definitely a proud Finn. We have military service in my country, which you have to do for a minimum of six months, but I did 12 months back in 2009 when I was 19 years old. I would like to live in Finland when I’m older too because the winters are great there, just not for playing golf. The life experiences I got from military service were very good for me and it really helped me grow up. There were a lot of long trips and outdoor excursions in the winter in minus 28 degrees! But looking back on it now it was all fun and I got some great memories from it all, even though when you’re there at the time in those conditions it isn’t so nice.
The golf courses in Finland really open in April, with the best case scenario seeing them open in March, and even then, they only start getting in good condition in June! The summer months are the best. Then the last rounds of the year are in October, so it’s a really short season for us. It’s not the best country to play golf in, but we have our winter sports to play when the snow comes.
Mikko Ilonen and Mikko Korhonen, the other Finnish guys on the European Tour, have helped me out a lot, and of course playing on the Challenge Tour I made a lot of friends who I see out here now. It’s always helpful having a few Finnish guys to chat with though, especially things other than just golf. Mikko has been the lonely horse in Finnish golf for a long time, and I’ve seen him winning a lot of European Tour tournaments. I especially remember him winning the Volvo World Match Play Championship in England a few years ago - I made sure I watched his whole last day, and I took a lot of inspiration from seeing him beat some of the best players in the world.
Away from golf I like tennis and billiards, but I’m not great at them. Listening to music and watching TV series are also my hobbies. At the moment I’m watching Blacklist, which is actually one of the best shows I’ve seen. I really like Metallica as well and was actually listening to them in the gym this morning. But I don’t have one type of genre I stick to, I just like good songs. For example one day I could be listening to metal, but then be listening to Niall Horan the next and some Finnish pop music. I like going out and eating good food too, so I guess you could call that a hobby too! If I was showing anyone around Finland I would have to give them reindeer. It’s not quite the national food but it’s a special thing. However Karelian pie is my favourite, but you’re going to have to try googling that!
It’s cool to be around the best players in the world now, as before I’d never seen guys like Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose hit balls. When I was in Abu Dhabi I tried to watch Dustin Johnson hitting balls on the range, as well as Rory, Stenson and Rose too. I’ve never seen a World Number One hit a golf ball, and yes it looks so pure when you’re there in person. They all seemed really relaxed guys as well, which was nice. It’s a good learning process just to watch those guys and see what they do. I felt comfortable being around them on the range as well, and it was a fun experience.
We travel a lot, but the travel side of the European Tour is fantastic. It’s nice to see new places all the time and experience different cultures – take Muscat last week for example. When I travel to these places I always try to Google what the cultures are like before I arrive and see what there is to see. I wouldn’t get these chances if I was in Finland, so if I’m there I should try to learn about new cultures.
Johannesburgiin! 🎩🕺 pic.twitter.com/dWC3UxEB5J— Tapio Pulkkanen (@hattutapio) December 1, 2017
The best place I’ve been is Sydney. I was still an amateur when I went there and it was such a nice city to visit. I also like Italy a lot with it’s great food, and eastern Europe has a lot of nice golf courses as well. in fact I played once in Ukraine before the war started and it’s such a lovely place. I think my favourite golf course though is the Old Course at Sotogrande, close to Valderrama. I played in a team event there many times and it’s wide from the tee but the greens are tricky. And my favourite European Tour course would have to be Oman so far, although I haven’t played that many yet! The condition of that golf course last week was just perfect.
Tiger Woods is my golfing hero, although I bet a lot of people say that! I’ve watched a lot of videos of Tiger and he’s absolutely my hero. He was in his prime when I started my journey in golf so he’s definitely one of the big reasons I got into the game.
The Challenge Tour, where I managed to top the Order of Merit last year to get my European Tour card, is a really good learning base for a professional life in golf. It’s easy for me to be on the European Tour now that I know the weekly routine. I think it’s very important you feel like you belong, and I feel like I belong out here now. If you think the other players are too high up then it becomes hard to compete, but now I’m on the European Tour I feel like I can compete. I finished third in Joburg and that was a good sign for me. Mentally that finish was massive for me.
I wake up smiling as it’s very nice to be on the European Tour. I enjoyed my four years on the Challenge Tour, but it’s great to be here. I think I’ve kind of always known I could have a good future in golf. That’s just a well because I haven’t really thought about any other careers. I studied for a year in Helsinki University, and checked in but never went to a single class! I didn’t get in trouble though, I just moved my start date twice, half a year for both.
My first goal for 2018 is to retain my card for next year
. I’d also like to see myself up there competing in events a couple of times, and of course, I’d love to win but I know it may be too early. That’s my drive and focus though - to win golf tournaments. As far as career goals go, I wouldn’t say I have them, but I do have career dreams. The Masters is the one, it’s the pinnacle for me. I’ve never been there but I’d love to win it one day, and I’d also love to win The Open. But those dreams are all for the future maybe. I think for now I just want to really enjoy the journey I’m on, as it’s not just about aiming for something, it’s about the process to get there and making the most of each day.
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