INCHEON -- To play in South Korea for the first time in her young career this week, Olafia Kristinsdottir, the first LPGA Tour player from Iceland, had to come a long way.
The rookie was a last-minute addition to the field of 78 at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, which began at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course, near Incheon International Airport, on Thursday. An extra spot opened up for her when Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand pulled out, and Kristinsdottir only found out over the weekend -- when she was actually on her way home.
"I was actually on a plane to Iceland. I was going farther away from Korea," Kristinsdottir told Yonhap News Agency after her opening round of two-over 74. "I flew from Iceland to Helsinki, and from Helsinki to Moscow, and then to Korea."
Olafia Kristinsdottir of Iceland poses for pictures after an interview with Yonhap News Agency after the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort`s Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)
Kristinsdottir said she arrived here around noon Tuesday. It was much warmer around these parts then, but after some drizzle, the temperature dipped to below 10 degrees Celsius by the time Kristinsdottir teed off Thursday morning. Winds blowing in off the Yellow Sea didn't help her cause either.
"The ball was flying much differently. It took me a while to adjust to that," Kristinsdottir said of her first round. "I am not hitting it nearly as far in these conditions. I really like the greens and the course here. But I arrived late, so it's taking me a little time to get used to everything."
Kristinsdottir, who will celebrate her 25th birthday Sunday, played college golf at Wake Forest University in the US state of North Carolina. She began her professional career on the Ladies European Tour, and then earned her US tour at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament, better known as Q-School, last December.
And Kristinsdottir said she doesn't feel any pressure of being a trailblazer of sort from Iceland, adding that she knows she won't be the last to come out of her country and join the LPGA Tour.
"This year, we've been doing much better in golf. There is this other girl who made the Ladies European Tour just after I moved to the LPGA," she said. "When the girls graduate from college in America, there will be more."
It won't really be a surprise if Kristinsdottir is joined by her countrywomen in no time, given how much people in Iceland are into golf. Kristinsdottir said golf is the second most popular sport in her country after football, though the gap may widen now that Iceland recently qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Iceland's population of about 340,000 may indicate a shallow talent pool. But with 66 courses, the country actually boasts the highest number of golf courses per capita in the world. About 60,000 people in the country are golfers.
Kristinsdottir said the golf season in Iceland only runs from May to September, but with 24 hours of daylight during summer, "It's 24/7" for golfers, she added with a smile.
Kristinsdottir hasn't had much to smile about in her rookie year. In 21 starts, she has missed 11 cuts and has had just one top-10 finish -- at the Indy Women in Tech Championship early last month, when she was alone in fourth place.
On the other hand, that performance netted her just under $103,000 and moved her inside the top 80 on the money list, a position that, if she holds on to it, will allow her to keep her tour card for next year.
After South Korea, Kristinsdottir will play in Taiwan, Malaysia and China to wrap up her season. She said she's "really close" to achieving some of the goals she'd set out for herself.
"I wanted to have two top 10s, and I have one," she said. "Maybe it will work out for me here in Asia." (Yonhap)