Two weeks ago, Minnesotan and former fourth-grade teacher Tyler Koivisto visited his in-laws in Michigan, intending to return soon to Arizona and its many golf minitours.
On Wednesday, he’s bound from Dublin to Portugal after the 11th-hour entry into his first European Challenge Tour event shot an 8-under-par 62 on Saturday and won the Northern Ireland Open by two shots on Sunday.
Life sure moves fast.
The former St. Cloud State golfer and “Game of Thrones” fan won nearly $38,000 and a wooden sculpture carved from a gnarly tree fallen in a nearby stand made famous by the American television show.
At age 27, he also won a new life in golf — full exemption on the European Challenge tour, partial on the big European Tour both through 2021 — with the biggest victory of his young career. He vaulted to sixth on the Challenge tour’s Road to Mallorca season-ending event and is headed to Portugal for next week’s tournament there. He hopes he’ll play in the European Tour’s prestigious Irish Open the week after that.
Koivisto, with his first Official Golf Rankings points earned, rose in an afternoon from 2,017th in the world to 495th, ahead of Ernie Els and Steve Stricker.
“A lot of things can change in one week,” he said Tuesday by cellphone from Dublin. “That’s the beauty and challenge of it.”
A three-time all-conference selection at St. Cloud State, Koivisto was raised in Cokato, Minn., and taught fourth and third grade for three years in the Monticello, Minn., school system. He recruited enough sponsors to chase the dream on golf’s minitours in Arizona and across the southern United States.
“I’ve had some good finishes here and there,” he said. “It’s a grind.”
He made the European Tour’s lowest exemption level at a tour-school qualifier in Austria last fall. He didn’t earn a spot overseas until he answered a call a week ago Sunday that asked if he could reach Northern Ireland by Thursday. He packed fast — “just my rain gear and some long johns” — and took a rapid coronavirus drive-through test that allowed him to travel internationally and got him inside the tournament “bubble” at Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort.
“Jam a steel rod down into your brain,” he said. “Luckily, it was negative.”
His wife and caddie, Jane, drove him that same day from near Detroit to Chicago, where he flew to Dublin. She didn’t accompany him because she wasn’t allowed inside the bubble, so he carried his bag all week for the first time maybe since college. He played a practice round Tuesday.
Koivisto attributed his 13-under-par final score that included a Sunday 3-under 67 to short notice and low expectations.
“I think and many golfers agree, you play your best golf when you’re most carefree and at peace,” Koivisto said, “and not worried about results and expectations.”
He said he didn’t realize just what he’d done until he later found 105 messages on his phone.
“Then I just kind of started bawling,” he said.
Koivisto wore a cap that advertised a buddy’s headcover business named Stymie Golf Supply, a little like underdog Rocky Balboa’s robe once promoted Shamrock Meats.
He played like a man out for a stroll in the park while his family back home followed Sunday morning on a website that refreshed every five or 10 minutes. “My mom was freaking out,” he said.
Koivisto last won a tournament a year ago, a Buffalo Lake, Minn., pro-am in which he played as a kid. Before that, you’d have to go back to his college career that ended in 2015. He carries on the Huskies’ golf tradition after the program was dropped last year.
Jane, who is a nurse, plans to meet him and caddie next week after he won his biggest payday alone.
“I don’t even know how much I won yet,” he said. “I’m still just trying to get to Portugal.”