Nicolai Højgaard is excited to begin his professional career at the Turkish Airlines Challenge this week after a remarkable 2018, which culminated in an appearance at The Junior Ryder Cup.
The European Challenge Tour’s 2019 season begins this week at Samsun Golf Club as the next wave of young hopefuls begin their quest for European Tour playing privileges by finishing in the top 15 on the Order of Merit.
The field for the Turkish Airlines Challenge is made up of familiar faces returning in pursuit of their dream and also the new guard who are ready to make their mark on the world golfing scene.
That latter group includes the Dane, Højgaard, who appeared in The 2018 Junior Ryder Cup alongside identical twin brother Rasmus, and won 1 ½ points against Team USA to cap off a fine amateur career where he reached Number Five on the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Despite finishing on the losing side at Disneyland Golf, Paris, Højgaard regards the occasion as a highlight of his golfing life and will take that experience into his Challenge Tour debut at the Turkish Airlines Challenge.
“The Junior Ryder Cup was special because the whole season was built up towards the event,” he said. “Me and my brother planned the season out to pick the right tournaments to get into the team, so it was goal achieved. It was one of the best weeks of my golfing life.
“You just want to beat the Americans. It’s like going into a war against the USA because you really want to beat them and the whole team was incredible.
“The Ryder Cup was stunning. We had a chat with the players on the range in the morning and then went out on the course to play six holes, it was magnificent.”
Having reached the pinnacle of junior golf, the 18-year-old is now focussed on fulfilling his dream of succeeding as a professional, beginning at Samsun Golf Club this week.
“At the start of the season, I didn’t think about turning pro,” he said. “I had a great season in 2018 so it made the decision a bit easier. It was a goal and a dream of mine to become professional and try to fulfil my dream.
“I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. The build-up here is really good and I’m excited to start the season on the Challenge Tour. I’ve got my dad on the bag and it’s going to be a special week.
“My dad is the reason why I’m standing here today. He introduced us to golf when we were four years old and now he’s stood here as a caddy for me in my first Challenge Tour event, so that’s special.”
Højgaard admits to finding differences in the atmosphere since joining the paid ranks, something which he believes is down to the importance of the competition.
“It means more now. It’s like a job so you feel like you’re more focused when you’re training and when you’re in tournaments. There is a bigger meaning to playing here.
“You have to be more selfish to play golf here. In amateur golf, we stay together and play small competitions. Here, you focus on yourself and it’s like a job.”
The Turkish Airlines Challenge and the Challenge Tour season gets under way at 7:20am local time on April 25, with Ben Eccles, Martin Ovesen and Joel Sjöholm playing in the first group.