Former World Number One tennis player Yvgeney Kafelnikov is dreaming of representing Russia at golf in the 2016 Olympic Games, as his career takes another step forward at this week’s Finnish Challenge.
The 38 year old retired from tennis in 2004 and two years ago decided to turn his hand to professional golf, since when he has made several appearances on the Challenge Tour under sponsors’ invitations.
Last week he made his European Tour bow at the Lyoness Open powered by Greenfinity in Austria, where he missed the cut by eight shots, and this week he moves on to Kytäjä Golf near Helsinki in an attempt to build on recent experiences.
“It’s a big honour to come to Finland to participate,” said Kafelnikov, who won two Grand Slam singles titles, the Davis Cup and an Olympic gold medal in an illustrious tennis career. “Every chance I get is good experience and will stand me in good stead for my golf career.
“It was wonderful to play in a European Tour event last week, and it shows that my game is moving in the right direction.
“For the last 18 years golf has been a big part of my life. I first picked up a golf club during a tennis tournament in America and straight away I was hooked. I fell in love with the game. Fortunately, when I retired from tennis I had a lot of time to play.
“I have dedicated my life to golf for a number of years now and the determination and desire is there. I’m not here just to make up the numbers of mark another player’s card.
“This week the Olympics are on and it really makes me want to be part of it when golf is involved in the next Games. I would love to play in Rio in four years’ time – that’s the goal.”
The Russian, who won men’s singles gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, added: “It’s strange because back home I’m known more for winning a gold medal than I am for winning two Grand Slams or being World Number One. It has more prestige in Russia.”
Despite being many years behind his fellow golf professionals, most of whom have been focused on golf since childhood, Kafelnikov believes he has the advantage of being a proven champion, albeit in a different sport.
“From playing professional tennis, I know what it takes to become a great champion,” he said. “I’m familiar with the level of hard work which is required to succeed.
“All professionals can strike the ball well, but what separates the great players is the ability to play well under pressure, which I am used to.”