Thomas Bjørn walked into the European team room at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and saw something that quite literally melted the heart of a man who has been described as “a veritable block of Scandinavian ice”.
It was his name on one of the team bags.
For the first time since making history as the first Danish player to make it onto a European Ryder Cup team, Bjørn was back inside the ropes at one of the greatest sporting events on the planet rather than acting out his familiar role as vice-captain.
“It was nice to walk in that locker room and actually see a golf bag with your name on it. From all the way down in my heart it feels good to be back,” he said.
Those words were very reminiscent of what the Dane said when he won the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City last year.
If Bjørn was looking for confirmation that at the then age of 42 he could still compete with the best in the game, then his two-stroke victory in the 2013 Nedbank Golf Challenge was it.
The $1 250 000 cheque he received for becoming the first Danish winner of “Africa’s Major” is nothing compared with the confidence he gained from a clinical four days at the Gary Player Country Club.
With a final round of 65 on Sunday, he claimed his second victory in 2013 on a total of 20 under par.
“This is right up there with the biggest victories of my career,” said Bjørn after beating Sergio Garcia and Jamie Donaldson into second place.
“Golf is funny. Sometimes it takes away from you and other times it gives back to you. This is one of those tournaments that have been around for so long. I’ve come close to winning it before, and I’ve always wanted to come down here and put in a good performance.”
In a moving prizegiving ceremony on the 18th green, Bjørn paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, who passed away during the tournament.
“He was an inspiration to human beings. To see what one man can do is an inspiration to all of us. If we all just do a little bit more then this world will be a better place.”
In a golf sense, Bjørn found the little bit more he needed, and he carried this into his 2014 season, opening with back-to-back top-10s then teeing off his Major campaign with a tied eighth in the Masters. It kicked off a solid season on the European Tour which saw him ranked fourth on the Race to Dubai at the time of writing. And it was exactly the season he spoke of wanting to have after his Sun City triumph.
“I want to compete and play with the best. I have no interest in being a guy on tour who just makes a living.”
There is a definite sense that this marks another phase in the career of a man who has had his highs and some unbelievable lows, such as when he dropped right down to 263rd on the Official World Golf Rankings.
In this time Bjørn said he fell out of love with golf and was even considering doing something else with his life.
But his career turnaround speaks volumes for the tenacity of a man whose surname literally translates to Bear.
And now he’s back for another bite at a million dollar payday.