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Five-time European Tour winner Mikko Ilonen, the first Finnish golfer to play in the Masters, retires at 39

March 22, 2019

Andrew Redington

Five-time European Tour winner Mikko Ilonen is retiring from competitive golf at 39 to focus on "my family and my own well being." The undisputed greatest golfer in Finland's history made the announcement on his website on Wednesday.

Among his accomplishments, Ilonen became the first Finnish golfer to play in the Masters in 2001. Later that year, he finished T-9 at the Open Championship. His best career finish at a major was a T-7 at the 2014 PGA Championship.

He was also the first Finn to win on the European Tour and crack the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He reached a career high of No. 37 after defeating Henrik Stenson in the final of the 2014 Volvo World Match Play Championship, and was still ranked inside the top 50 as recently as 2015. Here's Ilonen's full statement:

I made a conscious decision to not involve golf in my off-season that started post World Cup of Golf in November last year. Instead, I have focused on my family and my own wellbeing.

I have used the time well, which means that I have enjoyed the proper winter and I have done some things as I used to do as a kid, such as skiing and snowboarding. The quality time I have had with my wife and two kids has meant so much to me and I have realised that I don't want to prioritise other obligations ahead of my family.

As a professional golfer, or as an athlete, you sometimes have to be very selfish. I have been selfish for 20 years now and I think it is about time for me to care about others as they have cared for me. I am very grateful for what golf has given me, but now I want to focus on giving back to those that have supported me and to golf in general.

I am convinced that my retirement is not an end to one thing, but instead the beginning of something new and exciting. My passion is golf and I am determined to find a way of supporting golf in general and Finnish junior golfers in particular.

I am really looking forward to what the future has in its hands and I hope that I can inspire young boys and girls in Finland and abroad to reach their goals in golf and in life.

Ilonen, who had fallen to No. 391 in the Official World Golf Ranking and hadn't played competitively since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October, also posted this message on Instagram:

Ilonen played in 17 events on the European Tour in 2018, making nine cuts. He only had one top 10, but it was a T-3 at the Trophy Hassan II. Ilonen has been given credit for growing the game in Finland and there are currently four Finnish players, led by another Mikko (Korhonen) at No. 115, ahead of him in the current OWGR.