Short in stature but long in tenacity, Joakim Bjorkman tirelessly pursues a career in professional golf | Golf News and Tour Information

In many ways, Joakim Bjorkman is like the thousands of golf professionals around the world chasing their dream. His swing is a textbook, perfect takeaway, with his hands in excellent position throughout. His ball flight is almost always a tight draw. His short game is stellar. He performs in events everywhere, hoping to break through. It is, however, unique in at least one respect. Because he was born with achondroplasia, Bjorkman is only 4 feet 4 inches tall.

Bjorkman was born in Stockholm to a medical secretary mother and an electrician father. When he was around 6 years old, he remembers being shorter than his classmates. It was then that her parents told her about her achondroplasia, a condition in which the growth of long bones in places like the arms and legs is affected. People with this condition often have a normal-sized torso with short limbs.

As a youth, Bjorkman played table tennis, soccer and indoor hockey, a popular sport in Sweden. Like many, he fell in love with golf because of Tiger Woods. When he was 10, he watched the 2000 Open Championship and remembered how cool Tiger was. Woods won that year at St. Andrews by eight strokes. Bjorkman didn’t know it at the time, but this tournament would change his life. Still, there would be tough days before he realized the impact this championship would have on him.

Soon after, Bjorkman’s uncle cut a 7-iron for him, and that summer he enrolled in a golf program. His first official handicap was a 54. A few months later it was down to 15. The golf course became an escape from stares, an escape from other kids’ questions and anxiety about why people looked at it differently. . Silently, however, Bjorkman struggled.

“The questions from the other kids never bothered me as much as the stares from the adults,” he says. Jokes and comments were made at his expense. Bjorkman has internalized everything, hiding his depression and pain from almost everyone. Bullying has taken its toll. For 10 years he listened and hurt in silence. Then, when he was 16, he walked into the kitchen and collapsed. He woke up in a hospital, having suffered a panic attack. Anxiety had finally caught up with him.

Joakim needed a fresh start and a fresh perspective. He remembers studying the apple tree in his parents’ garden and making the connection to his own recovery. “You couldn’t notice the change from one day to the next,” he says, “but the apple tree eventually produced leaves, flowers and finally fruit. But it was a long process. I felt the same. For two years, Joakim rarely left his house. When he did, it was often to do one thing.

“The golf course was my home, a place where I could drop everything and not feel stress,” he says. His parents would drop him off at 7 a.m. and he would play and practice until dark. His game has improved dramatically. He focused on finding ways to make golf part of his future. Golf gave him a purpose; it saved his life. “I don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for the golf,” he says. “I don’t want to think about it.” The golf course was the first place he was considered a simple golfer. He hoped that one day he could make a living from it.

Opportunities for disabled golfers were rare in the early 2000s, but have grown over the years. The DP World Tour launched Golf for the Disable (G4D) with an event at The Belfry in 2019. This year it has expanded to seven events, including a season-ending championship in Dubai. The tournaments are 36 holes and are held on the same course during the same week of the corresponding DP World Tour event. This year the G4D will play courses such as Valderrama and Wentworth. The season begins in May at the Belfry. The USGA also announced the US Adaptive Open, which will be played at Pinehurst No. 6 in North Carolina. It was the tournament that Bjorkman marked as his most important of the year. The USGA and R&A have implemented a global ranking system based on a rolling 104-week cycle. Bjorkman was seeded third and is currently 24th. 1 player Brendan Lawlor played in a European Tour event in 2020, shooting 84-82.

G4D events do not offer prize money, although in 2022 the DP World Tour has promised a “financial support package”. So pros have to find ways to make ends meet, as annual expenses can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Bjorkman has some sponsors but it’s not enough, so he works as a hospital administrator. This is how he keeps his dream alive. His normal schedule is to work from 7 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m., then drive to the course to practice. He works on his game until nightfall and then starts again the next day. Milling.

I found out about Bjorkman through his agent, who called me about a trip Bjorkman was planning in the United States. He was looking for development tours to play on and needed advice on which ones he should target and which areas he should visit. I gave him a few options and sent a bunch of information. The developmental touring scene in the United States became quite fractured once the PGA Tour joined the fray with Latin American and Canadian tours. It can be difficult to navigate.

Bjorkman chose to travel to Florida in early April to play two tournaments. In the United States, development tours are often held on rough and/or relatively easy courses. The two Bjorkmans selected were anything but. The first was a two-day Florida Elite Tour event that was played at the Golden Bear Club at Keene’s Pointe in Windermere. It is a 7,173 yard, par 72 course with a rating of 75.3 and a fall of 140. He then played in a one-day West Florida Tour event at the Ritz-Carlton course at Sarasota, which was 7,000 yards with a 74 course rating and 132 incline. As he has with many things in his life, he faced the challenge head-on.

Bjorkman, 31, had never taken a long trip alone. Now he was crossing the Atlantic for a 10 day adventure. First, there was a problem with the rental car. The vehicle he uses in Sweden is modified for him, but for the first time he now needed pedal extensions. After his nine-hour flight from Stockholm, he picked up his rental car in Orlando. He spent the next 2.5 hours on the parking deck adjusting the extension cords.

Naturally, Bjorkman was aware of his budget. He had booked a hotel in the Orlando area that cost $680 for the 10-night stay. As soon as I heard the price, I cracked up. He described it as “more of a campsite than a hotel”.

I asked Bjorkman if he liked Chipotle, a staple restaurant in the world of professional golf. “I made it even cheaper,” he replied, adding that he ate a lot of meals at Publix, using the grocery store’s microwave to heat up TV dinners.

As he prepared for the first round of the Florida Elite Tour, Bjorkman was anxious. “I wanted to prove that I could play,” he says. “I wanted it too much.” He has a swing speed of around 92 mph with his driver and a ball speed of around 136 mph. Its transport distance with its driver is about 225 meters, so a course of 7,100 meters plays particularly long. He says he couldn’t hit about four par 4 with his approach shot. Despite this, he opened with a 40 in front of nine. Things fell apart in the back. “I’m not sure what happened,” he said. “I just felt so much pressure.” He struggled to get home in 50.

The next day he felt a little more relaxed and played a very good round, making 12 pars. Despite a double bogey in the last, he shot 79.

After practicing for a few days (and devouring more Publix TV dinners), he headed to Sarasota. He was paired with compatriot Daniel Chopra, who has 14 world victories, including two PGA Tour victories. On the first hole, Bjorkman hit a drive down the middle, played a 5-iron to 10 feet and birdie putt. He shot 85, but came away satisfied “it was a really tough course”.

“The guys were amazed at how hard he hit it,” said West Florida Tour owner Christian Bartolacci. “Most players didn’t expect the ball to go that far. His determination really showed when talking with him. It was great to have him play. »

The trip home included a canceled flight, lost baggage and rebooking on a flight with a long layover, typical of the issues so many pros have encountered. But Bjorkman remained optimistic. “It was really a great trip,” he says. “I would have liked to play a little better, but I learned so much.”

His biggest takeaway? That he could make the trip without any help. Bjorkman often gets late offers to play in pro-ams and tournaments, but he turned down countless opportunities because he had no one to travel with him. It is difficult to ask friends or family members to take time off work to accompany them. The main thing he gained during the trip was independence. “It really is so freeing for me to know that I can travel alone now,” he told me over the phone, excitement and relief evident in his tone. “I have so many doors open for me now.”

He’s back at work during the day, hammering balls at night. In May, he is due to play an event in the Nordic League, a development tour in Sweden. He is looking forward to the DP World Tour season and another trip to the United States for his biggest event of the year, July 18-20 at Pinehurst.

I write stories about gamers overcoming obstacles to pursue their dreams. Joakim Bjorkman has dedicated his life to succeeding in professional golf. He wants to be known simply as another player trying to climb to the highest level. It is exactly what it is.

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