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Iceland’s first winner: Birgir Hafthorsson 

Iceland’s first winner: Birgir Hafthorsson 

With a population of only 300,000, the odds of Iceland producing a European Challenge Tour winner are low, but Birgir Hafthorsson delivered in 2017 before claiming more glory for his country at the European Golf Team Championships the following year.

Birgir Hafthorsson 

Hafthorsson had been a professional for 20 years without tasting success and when he arrived at the Cordon Golf Open feeling sick, it did not seem like that winless run was about to end. 

He was unable to play a practice round due to his condition but had previously played the course so knew what to expect when he teed it up on Thursday morning. 

The then 41-year-old played exceptionally well over the first three days to reach 18 under par and then incredibly picked up the trophy without hitting a shot on the final day as heavy rain waterlogged the course shortly after the start of Round Four, reducing the tournament to 54 holes.

Nobody could begrudge Hafthorsson his convincing victory, holding a seven-shot lead after three rounds at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val Andre, however he admits experiencing mixed emotions.

“I was sick before the tournament so I was low on energy and the expectations were not high,” he said. 

“Then I started playing really well and expectations rose and I felt really good. I really enjoyed it, I love that place. Me and my wife look at it as a good place to go and relax and enjoy ourselves and play some golf.

“When I played well in the third round, some of the players started congratulating me before the final round because of the bad forecast. 

“It was kind of weird going to sleep with that. You know it’s also mixed emotions because I’ve won plenty of times back here in Iceland, and that special feeling of walking off the 18th after holing that final putt is always the greatest pleasure of winning a tournament.”

The victory was significant for his home country of Iceland, who celebrated his success collectively. 

“It was huge for Iceland,” he said. “It was the biggest tournament anyone had ever won. It got a lot of media attention and golf is very popular. It meant a lot for upcoming professionals to see it’s possible. 

“We have a lot of up and coming talent on the men’s side coming up from the Nordic League, they’ve started to win tournaments there and the Order of Merit, so I hope it gives everyone a boost. 

“At my age I had started seeing the young guys coming up, it was almost a wake-up call for me to keep in shape and keep playing well and that put me onto my first victory.”

Team Iceland European Championships

Hafthorsson brought more joy to Iceland the following year at the European Golf Team Championship, as golf formed part of the inaugural multi-sport European Championships, hosted in Scotland.

He teamed up with compatriots Axel Boasson, Valdis Thora Jonsdottir and Olafia Kristinsdotti to take gold in the mixed event at the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles. Hafthorsson and Boasson then won silver medals in the men's championship in the innovative tournament, which featured a 50/50 gender split in the field with male and female professionals competing for equal prize money.

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