In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Kalle Samooja reflects on his route to the European Tour, seeking that first win, and the rise of Finnish golfers on Tour.
It’s been a long road to get here, but so many of the experiences I’ve had over the last 11 years have been really good lessons. My main goal was always to play on the European Tour, and I think the decisions I made along the way and the experiences I had in Asia and on the Challenge Tour have helped me to become a better player.
I was 22 when I decided to turn pro after the 2010 European Amateur Team Championships, and I got through Q-school in Asia. It was the first Q-School I played in as a pro, so I decided to take the chance over there because I knew that with lots of co-sanctioned events it could be one possible route to the European Tour. A good friend of mine also got his card too, so we went out to Asia for the first time and really learnt a lot about Tour life, how to travel, where to play and how to play in different conditions. The people were always very friendly, the weather hot – maybe a little too hot sometimes – and I really enjoyed it out there for four years.
After a few years I decided that I would come back to Europe and try to play a little bit more on the Nordic League and on the Challenge Tour. I got my first win as a pro in 2014 on the ECCO Tour, but I was playing between two Tours and my game wasn’t great. At the end of that year I went back to Q-School in Asia to get my card and thought I’d try one more season out there. But it was tough and with few co-sanctioned events and my Q-school status I ended up only playing about 10 events.
That was when I really decided to make some changes, and in 2015 I started a new chapter in my golfing career. I changed coach to Mika Piltz, a former player, and he really helped me with a clear vision about how my swing should look and where we should go in my career. I’ve really improved since then.
I made some other changes too, bringing other guys on board like fitness coaches. That’s helped my game a lot, and fitness is something that I do spend a lot of time on, because there’s only so much time you can spend indoors hitting golf balls during dark winters in Finland. I think it’s become part of the Finnish players’ identity to work out too, and it’s a big advantage we have, because when you stay in good shape it’s also easier to travel.
It really felt like those things were paying off in my first couple of years on the Challenge Tour. I was playing some good golf, but I didn’t get high enough finishes. In my third year I started with a good couple of weeks in Kenya and I kept that momentum going. I gained more confidence, and it produced good results. In the end I really wanted to get the win to show everyone that I could do it.
The week I won on the Challenge Tour it was almost like fate, as I was back in China and we had just had our son two weeks before. I don’t think I’m the first person to have won straight after having their first child, but it was a really great experience, and that win got me on to the European Tour. He was actually supposed to be born that week but he arrived when I was home, and it was just such a relief. And then I got out there and my putter felt great, and conditions were similar to what I was used to so it almost felt like an easy week - but you still have to play well for four rounds.
I had a little bit of a rocky start to my rookie year on the European Tour in 2019 until I decided to make some changes and hire my caddie Danny Mulvey. I had had some good finishes but also some bad weeks, and I was changing caddies and just trying to find something in my game that would work. Right before the Scottish Open that year I started working with Danny and we found we were on the same level straight away. We think and talk about the game the same way, and I got the more out of my game that week than I had all year - and from then on I felt a lot more confident being out here.
I’m not a young boy anymore, so when I finally got that Tour card, I wanted to get the best out of myself and put everything I could into my game. That’s what I try to do week in and week out. I want to get the most out of my game for the rest of my time on Tour.
I’ve been close to that first European Tour win a few times, but to be fair there’s always someone who has played well to beat me - Dean Burmester had a fantastic final round here in Tenerife last week - and that’s just golf. My first year on Tour I was in a five-man play-off at the 2019 Omega European Masters, and honestly it was the first play-off of my career – I didn’t even play one at amateur level. I was quite calm, and I was surprised I missed that putt. Then against Calum Shinkwin in the play-off at last year’s Cyprus Open I was actually really confident that I could win and my putt lipped out, but it’s just how golf is. I still don’t think my game has been as good as it can be yet even though I’ve come close, so I feel like there’s going to be a week soon where hopefully everything goes my way.
Seeing all of the other Finnish players come through has been really motivating for me too. When I turned professional we only had Mikko Ilonen out here, who was my idol growing up. He showed us all that even though it’s not easy to practice during winters at home, he could still do it. Now there are four. Sadly Mikko and I only played a couple of co-sanctioned events and one in Leopard Creek on the European Tour before he retired, but I’ve been really good friends with Tapio Pulkannen since we played together as amateurs, and it was amazing to see him have success. Now watching someone like Sami Välimäki play well so quickly – and make it into Major tournaments - is motivating too, and I hope we can all inspire a new generation of Finnish golfers like Mikko did for us.
Watching Sami and both Mikkos (Ilonen and Korhonen), make it to Major Championships is something I hope I can do too. This week I’m really focused on trying to get into the PGA Championship, which was my goal coming out to these events in the Canary Islands. After having a good result in the past I’ve actually struggled to find some motivation the next week, but the PGA Championship is something that I would really like to get to, and I need a similar finish to last week to get in there. It’s big motivation, because it would be my first Major. I don’t watch a lot of golf normally on TV but I always watch the Majors, so it would be really nice and a big achievement to get there.