Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
It’s been an exciting year for Danish golf fans with the emergence of two of the most talented teenage players in the world hailing from Billund, the birthplace of LEGO.
The famous brand name derives from the Danish phrase ‘leg godt’, meaning ‘play well’, advice that 18-year-old identical twins Nicolai Hojgaard and Rasmus Hojgaard have heeded during their early careers. Both turned professional at the start of this season, joining the Challenge Tour, European golf’s second tier below the main European Tour, where Brooks Koepka cut his teeth before gobbling up majors.
Rasmus has already earned five top-10 finishes including a career-best runner-up at the Challenge de España in May, and has climbed to 12th on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit – one of the top 15 positions that would secure his European Tour card at the end of the season. Nicolai has registered four top-20 finishes in nine starts and is currently ranked 53rd.
Both first caught the eye during their amateur careers. “The future is bright, the future is Danish,” tweeted Europe’s Ryder Cup captain and fellow Dane Thomas Bjorn after Denmark edged out the USA to win golf’s World Amateur Team Championship in September 2018 in Ireland. It was the first time in the tournament’s 60-year history that Denmark had lifted the Eisenhower Trophy.
The 72-hole stroke-play event with three-man teams has proved a great showcase for young talent, with Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy having featured. Thanks to an inspired final round 66 from Nicolai and a 67 from Rasmus, which included five back-nine birdies, Denmark came back from fourth to finish one aggregate stroke ahead of the Americans.
Three months earlier, Nicolai won the European Amateur Championship in Holland, beating the much heralded Norwegian youngster Viktor Hovland – four years his senior and World Amateur number one – into second place. It was his third amateur win of 2018 following victories in the Bravo Tours Open and Hovborg Kro Open in his homeland.
Nicolai’s Amateur Championship title marked a successful fortnight for the twins, after both starred for the Denmark team which came from seven strokes back to win the Boys Division of the 2018 Toyota Junior Golf World Cup in Japan. Rasmus won the event’s individual boys’ title at 16-under – four shots ahead of Nicolai in second place.
Both were picked for the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup held in Paris. Rasmus won 2.5 points over three matches; Nicolai 1.5 over three. Though Europe were defeated 12.5-11.5, the twins did their growing reputations no harm by winning their singles matches on the final day to give Europe hope, proving they can not just play well, but play well under pressure.
Though stepping up to the paid ranks is a big leap and golf is littered with names who were earmarked for greatness as amateurs only to struggle as professionals. Rasmus is currently in position to earn his European Tour card for next season, but Nicolai, ranked 53, is facing another year on the Challenge Tour, and only the top 45 can improve their status through European Tour Qualifying School.
The twins have enjoyed success as amateurs, particularly playing together in a team, but the professional ranks will place more pressure on them as individuals, as Nicolai admitted. “It means more now. You feel like you’re more focused when you’re training and when you’re in tournaments,” he said. “You have to be more selfish. In amateur golf, we stay together and play small competitions. Here, you focus on yourself and it’s like a job.”