We all love David and Goliath sports stories, the supposedly weaker athlete overcoming the odds to stand tall among giants.
That’s why Søren Kjeldsen’s place near the top of the Saudi International leaderboard was a sight to celebrate. The diminutive Dane is now in his 46th year, still playing against the world’s best, and still holding his own.
By all rights, Kjeldsen should be back in Denmark polishing his four European Tour trophies. Four wins is some achievement for a guy who readily admits:
“Probably some people feel that I’ve overachieved.”
Hard not to argue with that statement considering the five foot, six inch pro is literally a minnow among big fish. Kjeldsen ranked 168th in driving distance on last year’s European Tour, averaging 282.76 yards per drive, nearly 20 yards shorter than the 301.55 tour average, and almost 60 yards behind tour driving distance leader Wilco Nienaber. What Kjeldsen lacks in power, he more than make up for with guile and great attitude.
Players who got the wrong end of the draw in the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon came off the golf course lamenting their luck at having to play in horrendous weather. Not Kjeldsen.
“These conditions are what I grew up in,” Kjeldsen said. “I like this kind of golf. I like the battling mentality that you need. I do thrive in this.”
No wonder Kjeldsen counts the 2008 Volvo Masters and 2015 Irish Open among his four victories, and has amassed nearly €16 million in career earnings.
The Dane is one of the most interesting studies on the European Tour for the reason he keeps a running commentary of his golfing life. Kjeldsen isn’t the type to head back to his room and kill time on social media. He’s far deeper than that:
“You play, you analyse and then you adjust. I do that every day. I write everything down. I’m a little bit of a geek. I’ve got statistics from every round I’ve played since I was 11 years old.”
Not just scores and birdies and bogeys. Feelings, thoughts, too. Wouldn’t you love to take a peek at those writings? There’s a good chance many could learn from the Dane’s diary:
“We all have limitations,” he once said. “The whole thing is about pushing, trying to see how good you can get and nobody’s going to stop me. Doesn’t matter if I’m playing guys six feet four that hit it 350. They’re not going to touch my little ball. That ball and me? It’s between the two of us.”
“When I have my mind in the right place I can do whatever I want. The right place is a quiet relaxed state of mind. It’s a state of mind where you’ve got enormous acceptance.
“Basically a good state of mind is where everything teaches you something. If you can learn from everything, that’s when you’re in a good place.”
Not bad mantras for those embarking on a career in this frustrating game.
There’s another reason to admire Kjeldsen. He believes in the game’s integrity. So much so that when Colin Montgomerie received a favourable ruling in the 2005 Indonesian Open – when he misplaced his ball beside the 14th green after play was suspended because of lightening – Kjeldsen had no qualms about confronting the issue head on.
“I wrote to Colin about a week after I got back from Indonesia, and I got nice letter back from him saying he would look into it,” Kjeldsen said.
The Dane also took the matter up with David Garland, the European Tour’s Director of Tour Operations
“I just didn’t like what I saw, and I felt I had to tell Colin and tell the Tour so they could have a look at it.
“What I wanted was for people to confirm that I wasn’t making stuff up, that I saw what I saw. The guy is a great hero of mine, but I still felt I had to protect the game. The game is bigger than any one player. That’s why I felt I had to do something.”
Kjeldsen gained huge respect from his peers for that action alone. Many shouldn’t have been surprised: Kjeldsen’s never been afraid to take on powerful players.
Here’s to the overachievers.
#JustSaying: "People didn't really give me much of a chance when I turned pro. They told me I should get a proper job because I wasn't going to make it. I lived my dream and proved people wrong." 2004 Women's British Open champion Karen Stupples