In this week’s Player Blog, Nicolai Højgaard reflects on first European Tour win last week, making his Rolex Series debut, and having a mentor in Thomas Bjorn
Being here this week at Wentworth playing my first Rolex Series event is really special. It’s a dream come true because it’s such a drastic change after last week, and I never planned to play these events this year. I was still at home when I got in as the last man in the field for Italy on Monday night, so I wasn’t thinking I was even going to play in the event. I had planned to play one in Prague and then go home for three weeks and play the next event I could get in to, so it’s pretty cool to be here now.
I hadn’t played golf or even touched a club the week I was home, and suddenly I got into the tournament, and then I ended up winning. It was a weird week because I in came late and I was stressing a little bit about practicing, and I didn’t even see the back nine before the first round, so I had no idea what it was like. So to be here right now is kind of surreal but I’m really enjoying it so far and I like being around the best players in the world because it motivates me to get better.
It’s strange, because that was the first time in a long time I haven’t touched a golf club on my week off. Normally I don’t do that, because I find real peace just playing golf back home with a buggy but maybe there’s something to it sometimes, because it just changes your mentality when you get back to it. When I was at home I left the clubs alone, played other sports and computer games, and just spent time with friends I don’t see often, which is what I enjoyed doing because it helped to take my mind off golf.
I think it helped me get over the line last week because I just had lower expectations and a better mindset than I normally have because I hadn’t played, and wasn’t meant to play, so I saw it as a free week. It’s not saying I’m going to stop playing every week I’m off or every second week because you need to grind in golf, but there’s definitely something about keeping your mind fresh by staying away from the game sometimes.
To then be able to have the chance to win and then close it out feels amazing. It’s what we practice for. I feel like I’ve actually played well tee to green for quite a long time and last week I had a little bit of a better putting week. I’ve felt like the game is there for a while, and it was just more mentally being ready to take the chance when I had it, because I’ve been waiting for this moment since I finished second to Sergio at the Dutch Open in 2019.
It was difficult trying to deal with all of my emotions last week, so to prove to myself that I can cope with that pressure is really satisfying. I really had to keep in control during the third round, and then after I finished I saw that I was leading, and the thoughts started going because it was the first time I’d had the 54-hole lead. I actually felt O.K. when I got to the course, but as soon as I got to the first tee I had more and more emotions, and they were getting the better of me, affecting me more and more. I’d managed to see a couple of good shots even though I felt uncomfortable in the third round, and I knew I could do it again. I started the round with my driver to help that mindset of being aggressive, about committing to every shot, and not being afraid of hitting a bad one, and that was pretty much the mentality I tried to keep in the final round.
My emotions had been so up and down on the back nine, and it was tough mentally to stay in the moment because I had the lead then I bogeyed 14 and 15, and I didn’t birdie 16 and knew I had the tough 17th and 18 to go. But I was also trying to enjoy the grind, and as soon as I knew I was tied and had to make birdie on the 18th to win, that was all I was thinking about. I thought if I hit driver on the fairway I could hit the green in two, but even after I hit a poor drive, I was just focused on giving myself a good yardage for that pin and putting myself in position to make four. And then I executed my third shot pretty much to perfection.
Standing over that winning putt was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life. When I was standing behind reading it, I took my cap off, looked down and thought, I’ve been practicing for this moment my whole life, and I’ve holed so many three footers all my life on the practice green, saying to myself this is for the win. And I said to myself ‘now that you’ve got it, you better hole this one, because you’ve got the chance, you’ve put yourself in this position, go and grab it, it’s your tournament so go and get it done’. Sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some, and this time I was lucky I did manage to do it. And honestly, it’s great to have done it against players like Tommy Fleetwood, but the biggest thing I can take from that win is confidence that I can hit the shots I need when it matters, and that I was able to handle the pressure.
I didn’t actually know that Rasmus and I had become the first brothers to win back to back events on the European Tour until afterwards, and it’s special, but it was more special to have him (and our girlfriends) there. They flew down on Thursday so they walked around on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I really appreciated having Rasmus and his girlfriend walk the back nine on Sunday. I could see him in the crowd, and sometimes we don’t have to say anything to know what the other one is thinking. There were times he just looked at me, and I could see in his eyes he was saying you can do this, and it really motivated me. To have him next to the green when I won was a great moment for both of us, because I haven’t been there at any of his wins, and then having had him do it the week before, it was amazing.
The game is amazing because it can change so quickly sometimes, and while last week was a high, there’s definitely been some frustrating times. The whole of 2020 was a bad year results wise for me, and I’ve had struggles. And then seeing my brother win three times without me having real success was quite tough, but at the same time it also inspired me to become better all the time. When he started winning, I was thinking I can do that as well, he’s just been better at putting himself in that position so far, which is really tough to do. There’s many things that have to go your way as way as well as playing good golf, and even watching him do that again before my win last week motivated me. And I’ve been grinding all the time, and suddenly it was my turn out to have a chance, and I managed to grab the chance when I got it.
It’s funny because both Rasmus and I spoke to Thomas Bjørn the week before we won. He’s a mentor for both of us, and he has a big impact on us. His words mean a lot, and we are lucky we both have a really good relationship with Thomas. A couple of weeks ago Rasmus talked to Thomas about everything and he went out and won, and then I had a good talk with him the week I was back home and I won. He said to me that I just really need to focus on myself, and do my thing, stick to the plan, focus on the process and always try to build layers on my game and results will come – that I just need keep grinding. He told Rasmus that as well, and you know things like that, but when he comes to me and says ‘you need to start focusing on the process’ you listen, and it has a good impact. I really enjoy spending time and listening to what he has to say.
That idea of focusing on the process is definitely something I’ve realised over the last couple of years, and I’ve had to become a lot more serious on and off the course to focus on myself. It’s a different game than when you’re an amateur, because that’s about getting the shots and trying to peak every week you play, whereas professional is about sticking to the process and being patient knowing results will come if you do that. My coach and others in my team always say the golf game is like a Formula One car, you’re always trying to tune more parts of your game. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
Brothers— Thomas Bjørn (@thomasbjorngolf) September 5, 2021
Back to back wins
These two are something else.
My ambitions now are just to keep getting better, build those layers up of my game, because those will help achieve the results and goals in my mind. Obviously those goals have drastically changed now, because at the start of the year I was thinking about just getting my card and building up a good schedule, and my win changes that completely. Now it’s just trying to continue to grind and try to improve my world ranking so that I can get into those bigger events.
To be playing this week at Wentworth is the first step of that, and I’m obviously pretty excited because I’ve always wanted to play big events with the best players. There are a lot of great players around, and ones I’ve grown up watching too, so I’m really looking forward to testing my game here, and I believe I can be in the mix.
It’s great to have Rasmus here too because he played the BMW PGA last year and told me a lot about it, and because we play similar golf I have a good idea of how to play through him, which is great because it’s a real precision golf course. Obviously it was playing a little softer last year, and it’s definitely firm and quite tricky, but I’m enjoying it so far and I can’t wait to get out there again.