Nothing has ever come easy for Mikko Korhonen. On 12 occasions the 38-year-old Finn has visited the European Tour Qualifying School, the last time in 2014, when he finished first amongst the army of hopefuls and has-beens. Since then, however, Korhonen has made steady progress and, most importantly, maintained his exempt status on golf’s second-biggest tour.
In 2018, the man from Helsinki flourished. His maiden victory arrived at the Shot Clock Masters, backed up by a runner-up finish at the BMW International Open and a brace of third-place showings. By the end of the season he was 46th on the money-list, a career-high, and making his first visit to the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
He’s not done yet either. With a final-round 66 over the 7,145-yard Genzon course just outside Shenzen, and a birdie at the first playoff hole to see off France’s Benjamin Hebert, Korhonen is now the Volvo China Open champion and a two-time winner on his home circuit. The pair tied on 20 under par, one shot ahead of last week’s European Tour winner, the increasingly consistent Jorge Campillo. In his last six events, the Spaniard now has a victory, two seconds and two thirds.
But it was ultimately Korhonen’s day. Starting three shots behind overnight leader Hebert, the three-time World Cup player dotted his card with seven birdies and only one dropped shot, and had a one-shot advantage standing on the final tee. Shortened to 314 yards over water in an attempt to add temptation to any drama, the par-4 18th succeeded in that mission when Hebert drove the green and made 3 to force extra holes.
It was a feat the 32-year-old, six times victorious on the second-tier Challenge circuit but still winless on the European Tour, was unable to repeat in the playoff. Both men drove close to the putting surface, but each followed with less than perfect pitches. Playing first, Korhonen left his ball 25 feet short, before Hebert clumsily sent his effort even further past the pin. Two putts from the Frenchman left the stage clear for Korhonen, who duly holed for the win.
“It’s amazing,” Korhonen said after collecting the trophy and a check for €441,465. “I don’t know how I did it, probably the putter today and most of the days. All day it was a battle, everybody was making putts. I had to just stay there and make my putts and just concentrate on the moment.”
A wise policy. But looking further ahead there were strong hints of the future for professional golf at the highest level. As many as 10 Chinese players were good enough to make the cut, including 14-year-old Yang Kuang, who finished T-55 overall after becoming the second youngest player to make the cut in a European Tour event (Tianlang Guan of China was one month younger when he made the cut at the 2013 Masters at 14).
The best of those was inevitably two-time European Tour winner, Haotong Li. The world No. 39 finished birdie-birdie to pull-up in fourth, four shots behind Korhonen (and one clear of compatriot, Ashun Wu). Clearly, more and more Chinese are following Li’s already highly promising example. Collectively, their more consistent success on the worldwide stage can only be a matter of time in arriving.