13 Feb 2024

Danish Delight – Nicolai Højgaard Q&A

After the Højgaards burst onto the scene in 2019, it initially looked like Rasmus would be the twin to make the jump to golf’s top table quicker after picking up three DP World Tour titles before his brother collected his first.

Despite Rasmus holding a one title advantage, four to three, it was Nicolai who entered the upper echelons of the game first with a sublime 2023 season, which saw him make his debut at the Ryder Cup before ending the year in style with a sublime win at the DP World Tour Championship.

That triumph, where he reeled off five birdies in a row on the back nine, not only banked him an invitation to the Masters and lucrative starts at two of the PGA Tour’s Signature events, but also firmly propelled him further into the limelight as one of golf’s top talent at the tender age of just 22.

We caught up with the Danish sensation before last month’s Dubai Invitational to find out what worked so well in 2023, his thoughts on Luke Donald retaining the Ryder Cup Captaincy and how he plans to prepare for this maiden outing at Augusta National.

Worldwide Golf: You obviously ended last season on a high with victory at the DP World Tour Championship, how focused are you to kick on from that triumph and get 2024 off to a strong start?

Nicolai Højgaard: I’m very focused. A season like I had last year puts things into perspective and gives you the opportunity to kind of sit back and write some notes about what you think has been working. I’m very excited for this season, I learned a lot last year and there were a couple of key moments that stood out. My mind is in a good place, and I’ve now got to build my way into the season – it’s not just black and white and thinking about wins. I need to focus on the small things and those small gains all the time.

WWG: You just mentioned that you’d written a few things down that had worked last year – what do you believe worked so well in 2023?

NH: I think it was my approach to the game, I’d probably say it was more disciplined and humbler to the process. When you’re either playing well or not at the top of your game, it’s about staying humble to the process and enjoying the grind of figuring the game out. Last season there were some key moments and I felt like I learned a lot from them and from spending time with some of my heroes at the Ryder Cup. It’s about how you deal with things and how you go about your own business. It’s not just about playing golf, it’s all those small things around you as well. I think that’s also a focus for me heading into 2024.

WWG: You’ve had a bit of time to let it sink in now, just how special was that win at the DP World Tour Championship?

NH: It was very special. It obviously came off the back of a great week in South Africa, which is somewhere I’ve never played well before. Sun City is a great course and a good test, but I’ve never really liked the visual off the tee. We put a plan in place where I wouldn’t hit the driver as much and aim to hit more fairways with the 3-wood and 5-wood. As I slowly gained confidence, I started pulling out the driver a bit more which put me in a really good position for the DP World Tour Championship as I felt good off the tee. I really like the visual of the Earth course, I had played there once before and finished fourth so I knew if I had a good driving week I would be there or thereabouts. I got off to a good start, slowly grinded throughout the week and as you know, anything can happen on the back nine on a Sunday. It’s a cool moment to look back on, especially as my friends and family were there with me to enjoy the win. You never know how many times they will be there when stuff like that happens, so for them to be there was really special.

WWG: What’s going through your head as you make the turn, knowing you are in contention to win one of the biggest events on the DP World Tour?

NH: I’ll go back to when I first woke up on the Sunday as I was really angry with my finish and attitude on the back nine from the third round. I kind of rushed things too much, which made me pretty mad and that feeling was still there on the Sunday, but I used that to my advantage – it was a turning point. I felt like I was obsessed during that final round, it’s hard to explain but I was so focused on where I was hitting my shots, where I was going to make a birdie and when the next one would come. I was a couple of shots behind heading into the back nine and I just wanted to put pressure on the leaders, as it’s not easy to win a golf tournament. It’s hard to explain but you just get into a bit of a run where your hitting nice shots and making birdie after birdie, but I would have liked to have made it six in a row with that missed opportunity on 18! It ended up being enough, so it didn’t matter in the end.

WWG: You mentioned there was a turning point that weekend, but I also saw a quote from you a few days ago where you said your season changed last year when Rasmus won in Denmark while you missed the cut. What exactly changed from that weekend onwards?

NH: I probably expected more out of myself. I wanted to go out and win each week instead of going into a tournament and focusing on things that I could control, like my worth ethic and preparation. That week that Ras won, and I missed the cut, gave me a kick up the backside. I needed to start doing things differently, not different, but maybe I needed to work slightly harder, be more focused and produce more quality. I started working a lot more on the bits and pieces that I was in control of. But then in the Ryder Cup, I didn’t do my own stuff well enough, I was more focussed on the team room which is important as well, but you’ve got to do your work that week. When you look at the best players on Team Europe, they were taking care of both their own stuff and the stuff in the team room. After that week, it just clicked for me that I need to be more focused and prepared, which led to me having a really good end to the season. Sitting here today, I’m a lot smarter in the way I approach things. That doesn’t mean I’m immediately going to go out there and perform, but now I realise there’s a lot more to the game than just hitting perfect shots.

WWG: On the topic of the Ryder Cup, when did you start believing you might get a call from Luke Donald to get onto the team and how special was that week in Rome?

NH: I never really had it in my mind going into 2023. I then got the call to play the Hero Cup after Ras had to pull out with injury, and I played really well there but it still wasn’t in my mind. I picked up my game throughout the season, played nicely in the two weeks before the team selection, which gave me some hope that I could still get a pick, but it was probably between three players. I obviously got chosen and I’ll never forget that call from Luke. Every time I see him it sparks that memory. It was a special week to bring that trophy back to Europe.

WWG: Luke will be Captain again in 2025 when Team Europe heads to New York. How much does he deserve that opportunity to lead the team again after the heroics in Rome?

NH: He was a great Captain and will be again. He knows a thing or two about winning and has performed well in the States. It’s about bringing those sorts of people when playing an away Ryder Cup – I’m not an expert in any kind of way but I know that you need players who have performed over there and he has been one of Europe’s best players. I’m sure he’s going to be a great Captain again.

WWG: You received a nice early Christmas present with your Masters invitation coming through in December. How excited are you to play at Augusta National for the first time?

NH: I’ve never been there, so it’s pretty cool to get that invite and get over there to see what it’s like. I’m excited for the challenge, I’ll do my best and you never know what’s going to happen. I remember watching Tiger win it back in 2019, that was such a cool moment. Last year was cool watching Jon win as well. I’ve watched it so many times on TV that I feel I almost know the course, but I guess when you turn up there you know nothing about it! I’m really looking forward to getting out there.

WWG: Will you look to lean on any of the European guys that have played Augusta for any advice on how to play the course?

NH: I’ll definitely try to play some practice rounds with some of the experienced guys. I’ll see where they are chipping from, how they approach the greens, but it’s like any other week so you’ve still got to see it yourself and find your own way to play the course. The experienced guys can give some golden nuggets and show you how to play it and then you go from there and hit the shots from what you feel and see.

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