By Tim Liotta
Nicolai Hojgaard sharing golf spotlight with his twin brother, Rasmus
Nicolai Hojgaard has learned, as a twin playing professional golf, even on his biggest day he is only half the story.
The 22-year-old from Denmark won for the first time on the DP World Tour in November, taking the DP World Tour Championship by two shots, besting a field that included the likes of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and the best the tour had to offer. At the same time, in the same tournament, his twin brother, Rasmus, was experiencing the other side of what the world of professional golf can dole out.
With the top 10 finishers not otherwise eligible on the Race for Dubai standings receiving PGA Tour cards for 2024, Rasmus stood 10th on that list late into the afternoon on Sunday in Dubai.
While Nicolai was reeling off five birdies in a row on Sunday's back nine to best Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland and Matt Wallace at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, Rasmus had to endure the experience of watching Matthieu Pavon birdie his final four holes Sunday to push past Rasmus for the final PGA Tour card.
Pavon's finish earned him a T5 in Dubai and enabled him to jump to the final spot in the standings, bumping Rasmus out of a card. Rasmus will have to start from scratch next season to earn PGA Tour status. DP World Tour member do not gain exemptions into this month’s final stage of PGA Tour Q-School, the final opportunity to gain a PGA Tour card in 2024.
So, sitting down to meet the media after his first DP World Tour victory, one of the first questions for Nicolai was: How disappointing is it, because you said on Friday that would be the best thing if you both are on the PGA TOUR, that Rasmus came up short.
"Yeah, seeing how it all turned out today, I really wanted him to get that card," Nicolai said of Rasmus. "He was in a great position. He's playing good golf. It came down to a crazy scenario, I think, in the end. You know, I feel sorry for Ras but he's going to bounce back. He always does. He's one of the best golfers I know and he's going to come back stronger afterwards.
Next Question: "The fact that he was there in the recorder's desk with you, despite all that was going on, that must have been special, as well."
"That shows our special bond, even though one of us is in a tough time, we always cheer for each other," Nicolai said. "The support we have towards each other; I know how he's feeling. We've probably had similar feelings when we go back, but having him there shows character and it shows that deep down, he's a great guy and absolutely love Ras. He's my best friend. So having him there was very special. I know how he's feeling, but he's going to come back."
Nicolai and Rasmus were connected back in January by the inaugural Hero Cup, with Nicolai stepping in for the injured Rasmas on the Monday the event was to begin, and collecting 3.5 points for the Continental Europe team. That performance stayed with Luke Donald, who captained the Continental Europe team.
"And obviously with Nicolai, he had to step in at the last minute for his brother, Rasmus, also is a great future star and is a star right now and will be a star for many Ryder Cups, I believe," said Donald in September at the media conference introducing the 2023 European Ryder Cup team. "Unfortunately he got injured.
"He had to come in. It was an awkward situation, and he just took to it like a duck to water. He stepped in. He was the most impressive player of the week. His statistics were the most impressive. You got to look and see what he had inside of him in a match play and a team environment. Certainly that went towards some of those decisions with getting him being a pick."
Yet Nicolai, who has won three DP World Tour events since joining in 2019, was a bit of a controversial pick for Donald. Hojgaard and Ludvig Aberg were selected as Ryder Cup rookies at ages 22 and 24 over the likes of veteran Adrian Meronk, whose wins on the DP World Tour included the Italian Open played over Marco Simone, the setting for the 2023 Ryder Cup.
Nicolai spoke of what it meant to be on the team at such a young age.
"It's a special week. You're sitting next to your idols and heros and you're going out preparing for a big week. It's pretty cool to be here and preparing and being in the team room and seeing the stuff that goes behind it. That surprise Luke made yesterday with our shirts next to each other and then Seve's in the middle, it was special and emotional, and that's what this week is about.
Question: You talked about some of your heros on this team have said if there's anything they could do to help you, don't hesitate, you can ask them anything. Have you been asking them anything, and what sorts of things have they been telling you?
"I think the good part of all this is they have been in the same position that I'm in now," Hojgaard said in response. "They got the rookies - obviously Rory and Rahm and Rose, those guys have been here a lot. They were rookies at one point as well, and they had guys, they had questions. So being in the same position as them, trying to learn from the best is pretty cool. It's about how you prepare for this week going in as a rookie compared to when you're an experienced guy.
"And yeah, they are all very good to me and the other rookies and how to learn to approach this week and prepare. Yeah, I mean, just like basic stuff, really. It's quite simple stuff you worry about, and they are pretty good at putting it down to simple things you could do to prepare the best way."
When asked about the message, Hojgaard said: "That we all be in the same place. Everyone has been in this position where they have come in and be in the team room with guys you've looked up to your whole life, and suddenly you're playing with them, and you're asking silly questions that you don't probably normally would ask. And I think that's the cool part of all this is that we have all got the same feelings and same emotions when we play and being in that team room, and that's the cool part of all this.
Question: "What sort of silly questions?"
"I mean, it comes down to simple things," Hojgaarrd said. "I mean, what do you do when you go on the golf course, what do you do? All that stuff you don't normally ask about, but it's because this week is so special, and you want to ask a lot of questions and you want to interact with everyone all the time, and you want to be prepared when you get to the golf course and what do we do and how do we do it.
"Because normally you know what you're going to do when you get to the golf course, but this is just an experience you would never imagine, and when you get here, everything is so big and so different compared to a normal week. Just trying to learn as much as possible from guys who has been here a lot."
The European team went on to defeat their American counterparts 16 1/2 to 11 1/2, with Hojgaard teaming with Jon Rahm for a half-point against Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka in Friday Four-Ball.
Hojgaard's win in the DP World Tour Championship capped a year in which he finished second to Rory McIlroy in the Race to Dubai, made 16 of 17 cuts, with nine top-10s. His season also included his first top-25 finish in a major, a T23 at the Open Championship in July. He currently ranks No. 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, which would put him in his first Masters in 2023 if he holds onto that spot through the end of the year.
Asked his plans for 2024, and where he planned to be based, Hojgaard responded, "At the moment, that's something we have to figure out, the planning. There's a lot of things and it's something we needed to clear this week," Nicolai said. "We needed to finish this week first before we actually start going into the depth of what we'll deal with next week or next year.
"We probably have to base ourselves over there. If you really want to compete against the best, I think you have to dedicate yourself and move base. But we'll see what's going to happen the next few weeks and months. Very excited going into."