Icelandic Player Ready for the Big Time

Olafur Loftsson isn't exactly a household name in the world of golf. But that doesn't matter this week as the 24-year-old is the first player from Iceland to ever play in a PGA Tour event.

Loftsson, a student at UNC Charlotte, earned a spot in the Wyndham Championship by winning the Cardinal Amateur last weekend at Cardinal Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. The $5.2 million event teed off Thursday at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro.

Prior to this week, Loftsson has never even attended a PGA Tour event, let alone played in one. His first time on a Tour venue came Tuesday when he played a practice round with David Duval. He's paired with Cameron Percy and Billy Horschel in the first round.

"It's obviously a little bit weird standing around these guys on the driving range and on the putting green," he said of the pros.

Loftsson's participation in the Wyndham Championship is big news back home. The European island nation of about 320,000 inhabitants has no heritage in golf, but that hasn't stopped several of Loftsson's family, friends and associates from taking the flight to Greensboro.

Upon learning of Loftsson's entry in the Wyndham, Gunnar Hansson, a golf reporter for Iceland's TV Channel 1, booked airline tickets for himself and a cameraman. Another Icelandic reporter also made the trip. The president of the Icelandic Golf Association is in Greensboro along with Loftsson parents, who play golf and introduced their son to the game.

"When we saw what happened (at the Cardinal)," Hannson told reporter Jim Schlosser of The Southern Pines Pilot, "we said we have to go. This is big news in Iceland."

Loftsson said Iceland has 60 or 70 courses and several good golf teachers, and that golf is the second most popular sport after soccer. But residents are restricted in that the game in the frigid country can only be played four or five months a year. But because Iceland is so far north, there's really no nighttime during the warm months.

He once played 64 holes over a 24-hour period. "It's 24-7 in late June," he said, referring to the amount of daylight. "You can play all day long (and night) so why shouldn't you?"

Loftsson said he's not intimidated by the competition this week in the Wyndham. "I'm going to enjoy these few days and enjoy this experience and try to learn as much as I can," he said, "because I intend to be here in the future."

Here's what else Loftsson told reporters during a Q&A session Wednesday at Sedgefield CC.

MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome Olafur Loftsson. You're going to become the first player ever from Iceland to play a PGA Tour event. Kind of tell is what that means to you and what kind of feedback you've been getting not only in the States but back in Iceland, then we'll take a few questions.

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: It means a lot to me. Not only for me, just as well for my country. It's a good feeling representing your country. It's a good feeling being the first Icelandic player ever to be here. Very excited about the tournament and it's a privilege to be here.

MODERATOR: Questions?

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about golf in Iceland and how you got started playing and all that?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: Yeah. Golf in Iceland is a little bit different than from here. We have about 60 to 70 golf courses in Iceland, lot of link style courses. We play about four to five months a year because of weather conditions and it's the second most popular sport in Iceland behind soccer and it's growing very fast. A lot of the population now plays golf. It's very popular for youngsters now and we're seeing a lot of potential players rising in these days.

Q. How were you introduced to the game? Can you tell us a little bit about your background in the game?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: My parents introduced me to the game. They both played a lot of golf and still do. And I started going out with my parents on the golf course when I was a kid and I really picked up the game when I was about 12, 13 years old and at the time I started loving the game. I spent almost everyday on the golf course and still do today.

Q. How much time do you spend in Iceland and how did you end up over here?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: Well, basically as you guys know, you can't play golf all year around in Iceland. To play on European or PGA Tour you have to practice all year-round. Basically the best opportunity for me was to go to college here in the States. So I found myself a school here in Division III to start with and worked my way up and am now at UNC-Charlotte in Division I and having a great time over there, and it's probably the best opportunity to get better is to go through college here in the States where you can both educate yourself and play some golf and it's been a lot of fun so far. I'm very excited about the future.

Q. What has been the reaction in Iceland to you getting into this tournament?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: It's been quite a reaction. People over there are very pleased to see me have some success. It was kind of sudden, obviously getting a sponsor's exemption through that win last week but, you know, as I said earlier, it's the second most popular sport in Iceland and people are all over it and very excited to be able to represent Iceland here and kind of show the world that we do play golf in Iceland and we can be pretty darn good.

Q. Did they send TV crews or reporters over?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: Got a couple of TV crews here in the back. They're very excited. I'm happy to have them here.

Q. Tanned guys?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: Very tanned. You can recognize them by their skin color.

Q. Tell us a little bit about the Cardinal amateur and your three days there. How did you get into that tournament? Describe the couple of days there.

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: That was an invitation tournament. I've been doing pretty well in college over the last couple of years and then the international tournaments. I was lucky enough to get an invitation to that tournament. The field was pretty strong, in my opinion, it was a lot of great amateur guys out there, and the course, magnificent course, Cardinal Country Club here in Greensboro, obviously. It was a great tournament from the start. I played very solid golf, especially short game, and just to have the opportunity to play for a spot in the PGA Tour event made it a lot of fun and I was just very happy to win the tournament and have the opportunity to be here today.

Q. What are your goals for the tournament, for the Wyndham Championship?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: I enter every tournament to win so even though I'm playing the PGA Tour event now I always play to win.

Q. Since you've been here this week, has there been anything that's been pretty cool, anybody you've met, any player that you idolize that you were practicing beside or anything like that?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: Well, obviously it's a lot of fun spending time with the guys you've looked up to for all these years and it's obviously a little bit weird standing around these guys on the driving range and on the putting green. I enjoyed playing with David Duval yesterday in the practice round and basically everybody I've met, they've been super nice and helped me out and I'm just very excited about playing with these guys for the next few rounds.

Q. This is sort of a similar question but are you at all star-struck or is it just another golf tournament?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: I mean a little bit. It's a little bit strange, you know, being around these guys but I'm not intimidated by being here. It's just a lot of fun. I'm going to enjoy these few days and enjoy this experience and try to learn as much as I can because I intend to be here in the future.

Q. Somebody told me that you once played like 64 holes in a day. Can you kind of recount that day, how it started, how long, you know, just kind of what it was like?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: Basically I love playing golf and to be able to play golf 24/7 in Iceland late in June, on a good day it's calm outside and you can play all day long so why shouldn't you? I think I played a few rounds there but I've played a lot of rounds at nighttime in Iceland, the wind usually dies down and it is just pretty spectacular.

Q. How many hours did it take you to play the 64 holes?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: I can't remember. You know, if you can play for that long each day, I usually take the opportunity to use the good days when they come in Iceland.

Q. Make up for the winter months.


Q. My question is about the junior development and how you became such a great skilled golfer and what type of development does Iceland have or you just get handed a club?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: We have a lot of great coaches in Iceland and we're getting more and more educated people to teach the game of golf in Iceland and basically through a lot of hard work, lot of practice, we had the opportunity to practice indoors during the wintertime. It may not always be, you know, fun, it may be tough sometimes but, you know, you get through the tough times and it certainly makes up for the great times.

Q. Two questions. Have you ever been to a PGA Tour event or European Tour event?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: No. This is the first time I've been to any major event like this but I'm very excited.

Q. And secondly, is there any particular player that you followed or idolized or whatever growing up?

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: Not in particular. Obviously just a bunch of these guys that are out here you've watched for many years so it's a lot of fun being one of the guys here this week at least.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks a lot for your time and good luck this week.

OLAFUR LOFTSSON: Thank you very much.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.