Sibling rivalry at a young age can often be a professional athlete’s beginning in their sport.
However, teenage twins competing as professional golfers on the European Tour is a whole new level.
In the case of Rasmus Hojgaard, and his brother Nicolai, not many golfers have advanced to such a high level so quickly, let alone a set of twins.
“We can always push each other,” Rasmus told CNN’s Living Golf’s Shane O’Donoghue.
“We’ve done that since school and playing handball or football. It was always like, who can be the best? It has definitely helped us quite a lot in golf as well.”
While Rasmus has won more since they both made their professional debuts in 2019, their glittering amateur careers – in which both brothers helped the Denmark team win the Eisenhower Trophy in 2018 – has seen them enjoy alternate moments in the spotlight.
“It’s something we’ve seen since we started playing golf at an early age,” he remembers. “One would have a very good year, and then the next one will be even better the next year, and then it was always up and down.
“Nicolai in 2018 had an unbelievable year as an amateur, winning everything he pretty much played. So I think a lot expected Nicolai to be the one to have a fast start as a professional. And I did too, because he looked so good in 2018.
“But this is the thing about golf. It changes all the time. So, yeah, I had early success, and Nicolai had as well early on.”
His first win on the European Tour, at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open in December 2019, made Rasmus the third youngest winner in tour history, aged only 18 years and 271 days.
People immediately sat up to take notice.
“I could definitely feel that I got a lot of more attention suddenly,” he said. “I think people started early out expecting me to do big things quite early and it was… I didn’t know how to handle it back then.
“It was a lot of different things at one time. It was fun, but it was also very tough in some way.”
It was at that moment that the current coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt, and the teenager was given the chance to quietly step out of the public eye and return to behavior perhaps more typical of someone his age.
“I’ve always had a passion for video games, so I had some time to get better at that and spend some time there,” Rasmus explains.
“I think at that time almost everyone was spending time with their friends doing video games, because we weren’t allowed to be together and spend some time.
“We, obviously, had a lot of fun playing on computer or PlayStation or whatever it was. It was very comfortable because suddenly you are not thinking about any golf or anything related to golf. I think that was very helpful for me.”
An old head on young shoulders
Despite feeling that he had “lost a little bit of my touch” following lockdown, another enforced absence actually led to the Dane winning the ISPS Handa UK Championship at The Belfry in August 2020.
“At the British Masters,” Rasmus told CNN Sport, “I injured my right foot and played on painkillers for the next two weeks after that. But I managed to play good golf.
“When I kind of secured my spot for the US open after the third event, I said to myself: “I have to go back and get my foot checked.” So I got back, got an MRI scan, ultrasound scan and all these different things, and got an injection in my right foot.
“So again, that was eight, nine days without golf. That’s where the touch is gone again. That’s what I thought.
“I obviously came back at the Belfry playing some good golf. It’s weird sometimes. I think, when you don’t expect too much of yourself that’s when you play some of your best golf, and I think that’s what happened for me there.”
Focus and mindset are consistent themes of Hojgaard’s approach when he is on form, and in deliberately ignoring measures of his own success, he has noticed an improvement in his game.
“I’ve had some lessons during this year where I’ve started to look too much into the different rankings, and it hasn’t done any good for me,” he acknowledges.
“So I need to focus on the right things. When I do that, that’s when I seem to play good golf.”
Such a mature attitude belies his age, but it did not prevent Rasmus from feeling awed on the US Open, where he was making his major debut, when faced with established stars.
And sharing a practice range with his hero Rory Mcllroy proved a daunting experience for the young Dane.
“I didn’t quite know what to do in the practice,” he remembers. “I was so focused on some of the big guys and had nine holes with Rory there, where I didn’t even focus on my own game. I was just looking at him playing.”
Like the twins, Mcllroy was a golfer who turned professional as a teenager, and it is not only his sporting prowess that his younger competitors appreciate but also his admirable humility.
“I grew up watching Rory. He was my … still is my big idol in golf,” reflects Rasmus.
“When I started playing golf, it was Rory in the TV every week, and I really enjoy watching him play. I liked the way he plays, hits are long, just a phenomenal and ball striker.
“But, at the same time, he’s just such a down-to-earth guy, which I think is what is really great. I think that’s… It’s kind of what I was raised a little bit too, is always be grateful for the help you’ve got all the way up. Because it’s the same people you meet when you’re playing well as when you’re playing bad.
“So it’s always try to stay as humble as possible. I feel like Rory is one of those guys. I had that experience with him at the US Open as well. He was such a nice person, played nine holes. That’s a highlight so far.”