Hockey in the heart, golf on the mind
5 Min Read
Sweden’s Pontus Nyholm in hot pursuit of first TOUR card
Written by Adam Stanley @adam_stanley
Editor’s note: Pontus Nyholm will be featured in this weekend’s episode of “One Shot Away,” airing at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS Sports.
Seeing the junior, amateur, and collegiate record of Pontus Nyholm, it makes total sense why he decided to make golf his chosen career path. He won two pro events in his native Sweden as a 20-year-old amateur. He was part of Sweden’s victory at the 2019 European Amateur Team Championship. He was the Big South Conference Golfer of the Year while at Campbell University after three first-place results. Nyholm had all the necessarily accomplishments to make the transition to the pro game when the time was right.
But making the PGA TOUR wasn’t his first dream. He wanted to play in the National Hockey League, like so many of his countrymen.
“Growing up I always saw myself playing hockey for the rest of my life,” said Nyholm. “That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to play in the NHL.”
Nyholm is from the town of Gavle, Sweden, population some 100,000. The ‘G’ sounds more like a ‘J’ and it has a traditional Nordic sing-song pronunciation. But Nyholm pronounces it as “Gav-Lay” when he speaks to North Americans. “Keep it simple,” he laughed.
It’s a big hockey town, however.
There are about a dozen current NHLers from Gavle, including likely the most celebrated of them all – Nicklas Backstrom.
Backstrom was drafted by the Washington Capitals fourth overall in 2006, won the Stanley Cup with the team in 2018, and is the franchise’s leader in assists.
Nyholm wasn’t quite on Backstrom’s trajectory, but he was trending towards hockey’s biggest stage.
“That was my big dream,” Nyholm said. “I didn’t regret my decision (to play golf) but growing up in Sweden … you play hockey.”
At age 15, Nyholm had a “really good” summer of golf and the next year he moved south from Gavle to Vaxjo to attend the Sweden Sport Academy and play golf. At that time in Sweden if you were going to play hockey, that’s the age when you needed to take it seriously. The hockey team, Nyholm said, would have 11 workouts per week in the summer – three on the ice and eight off-ice. If he was to do that, he couldn’t play golf.
Golf was easy then. Hockey would have taken over everything else. He pivoted but found nothing but success.
Nyholm had been to the United States twice prior to attending Campbell in North Carolina, playing in junior events in Scottsdale, Arizona and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Being from a town of just 100,000 people, he landed on Campbell (it’s in Buies Creek, North Carolina, “which is kind of in the middle of nowhere,” he said with a smile) and found immediate comfort. There were also a few other Swedes there.
“At least I knew I could have some friends,” Nyholm said. “I was talking to bigger schools. I was talking to Ohio State. And it just felt kind of scary. I hadn’t spent much time in the U.S., and I didn’t know if I was going to like it or not.
“It wasn’t really what I was expecting, but it was everything I needed. A really good team, a nice campus, and the golf course was a two-minute drive. Easy.”
Nyholm was the Big South Conference’s Freshman of the Year and qualified as an individual for the NCAA Championship. When he put a bow on his career at Campbell University, he had the most top-10 individual finishes (21) and had the lowest career stroke average (just over 71) in school history. He got as high as No. 15 in the PGA TOUR University Ranking. After winning the Stitch Intercollegiate in 2021, he made his debut on the Korn Ferry Tour, making the cut as an amateur at the UNC Health Championship presented by STITCH (then the REX Hospital Open).
But it was quite the week of learning for Nyholm. Although he found the weekend and finished at 4 under, he was 17 shots behind the winning score.
“(The winner) shot (21 under) for the week and I was like, ‘Man, he’s pretty good,’” said Nyholm. “I got beat by (17) strokes and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have some work to do.’”
Nyholm had a full season on the Korn Ferry Tour last year and admitted that season was more for him to try to keep his card. He did just that on the back of five top-25 results and a runner-up at the Veritex Bank Championship in April, thanks to scorching 9-under 62 on Sunday, that week’s low score at Texas Rangers GC.
He admits he wasn’t entirely comfortable on the golf course and while he gave it 100% inside the ropes, he didn’t do all the right things at home to reach his potential. This year he’s worked with a strength and conditioning coach to be more disciplined with his warm-ups, exercise and meals. That has made a big difference, he said, in terms of how he’s feeling and getting stronger and faster.
“This year it’s been a big shift in my mindset during tournament weeks,” said Nyholm. “Just going to try to win versus playing not to lose.”
While there is just one other full-time Swede on the Korn Ferry Tour this season (Tim Widing) and another on the fast track to the PGA TOUR (PGA TOUR University’s top-ranked Ludvig Aberg, a close friend), Nyholm said he’s never been more motivated to join the impressive list of countrymen to get to the PGA TOUR and hopefully find the winner’s circle.
It's not a bad backup goal to have accomplished.
“Apart from playing in the NHL,” Nyholm said with a smile, “that’s my lifelong dream – to play on the PGA TOUR.”