August 17 2011
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Olafur Loftsson has never attended a PGA TOUR event. On Thursday, though, the UNC-Charlotte senior will become the first golfer from Iceland to ever tee it up in one.
Loftsson received a sponsor's exemption in the Wyndham Championship when he won The Cardinal Amateur on Sunday. It's big news back home -- two TV crews from Iceland have flown to Greensboro to chronicle his experience.
"It means a lot to me," said Loftsson, who was wearing a green shirt with a UNC-C logo on Wednesday. "Not only for me, just as well for my country. It's a good feeling representing your country. It's a good feeling being the first Icelandic player ever to be here. Very excited about the tournament and it's a privilege to be here."
Iceland has a population of about 320,000 -- which is about 80,000 more than the city of Greensboro -- and Loftsson says golf is the second most popular sport behind soccer. An estimated 16,000 Icelanders are affiliated with golf clubs and there are nearly 70 golf courses in the country, mostly links style layouts.
"We play about four to five months a year because of weather conditions ... and it's growing very fast," Loftsson said. "A lot of the population now plays golf. It's very popular for youngsters now and we're seeing a lot of potential players rising in these days."
Loftsson, who has played in the NCAA Tournament each of the last two years, won the Icelandic Championship in 2009, following in the footsteps of his father Loftur. His dream is to play on the PGA TOUR so he decided to come to the U.S. where he could practice and play year-round. His first stop was Oglethorpe University, where he won the NCAA Division III title as a freshman.
"(I) am now at UNC-Charlotte in Division I and having a great time over there, and it's probably the best opportunity to get better is to go through college here in the States where you can both educate yourself and play some golf and it's been a lot of fun so far," Loftsson said. "I'm very excited about the future."
Iceland is so far north that there are summer days when the sun basically shines all day -- and night. The high temperature averages about 55 degrees.
Loftsson once played 63 holes in one one day. He doesn't remember how many hours it took him -- just that you need to take advantage of the good days when they come in Iceland.
"Basically I love playing golf and to be able to play golf 24/7 in Iceland late in June, on a good day it's calm outside and you can play all day long so why shouldn't you?" Loftsson said. "I think I played a few rounds there but I've played a lot of rounds at nighttime in Iceland, the wind usually dies down and it is just pretty spectacular."
Loftsson said he doesn't have a particular golfer he grew up idolizing.. But he hasn't been star-struck this week.
"Obviously it's a lot of fun spending time with the guys you've looked up to for all these years and it's obviously a little bit weird standing around these guys on the driving range and on the putting green," he said. "I enjoyed playing with David Duval yesterday in the practice round and basically everybody I've met, they've been super nice and helped me out and I'm just very excited about playing with these guys for the next few rounds."