Joost Luiten has targeted a happy homecoming this week as he bids to become the first Dutchman in the modern era to win the KLM Open on more than one occasion.
Luiten, who narrowly missed out on qualification for The Ryder Cup, also has another milestone in his sights at Kennemer Golf and Country Club this week, as no Dutchman has ever successfully defended a European Tour title.
But having played himself into form with a top five finish on his last appearance in Italy two weeks ago, Luiten will have high hopes of keeping his hands on the trophy he secured in such dramatic fashion 12 months ago.
Having gone into the final day with a one shot lead, Luiten saw his advantage eroded by an early birdie burst from Miguel Angel Jiménez but he battled back bravely to force a play-off with the evergreen Spaniard, which the home hero won courtesy of a par on the first extra hole.
The victory sparked scenes of jubilation amongst the success-starved galleries, who had endured a ten year wait for a home victory since Maarten Lafeber’s triumph in 2003.
The only other Dutch winners of the tournament are Gerry del Court van Krimpen (in 1915), Joop Rühl (1947), Dirk Oosterveer (1919) and his brother Jacob, who became the first – and so far only – Dutchman to claim his national Open title twice when he followed up his win in 1917 with another victory in 1930.
Now Luiten will seek to add to his tally of three European Tour titles and emulate the feats of the 1977 and ’78 champion Bob Byman, who is the only player to claim successive KLM Open titles since the tournament became part of The European Tour International Schedule in 1972.
“Winning in my own country was very special, and for it to happen early on in my career was a dream come true,” said Luiten.
“So it will be a proud moment for me to return as defending champion, and I can’t wait to play in front of the home crowds again – their support last year was unbelievable.
“This tournament is definitely the fifth Major for me. Having another Dutch winner was great for golf in Holland, and showed that the game here is moving in the right direction.
“It’s nice to come into the tournament after a good result in Italy. I’ve been in contention quite a few times this year without managing to quite get the job done, so this week would be the perfect place to put that right. I’ll give it my best shot.”
Meanwhile, Luiten’s compatriot Robert-Jan Derksen will be teeing up in the KLM Open for the 20th and last time.
At the start of the year, Derksen announced that the current campaign would be his last, and the 40 year old would dearly love to sign off with a maiden victory in his national Open, with a tie for 11th place in 2011 his best effort to date.
He said: “I’ve played the tournament three times as an amateur, and this will be my 17th time as a pro. It’s special every year but this year it’ll obviously be extra special, as it’s my last appearance. You always want to do well in your home Open, but this time I’ll be trying harder than ever because it’s my last chance.
“It was the one tournament I’ve always wanted to win above all others, but of course there’s always extra pressure and extra focus on you this week, so it’s not easy. It would be a fairy-tale to win the tournament in my last appearance – let’s hope fairy-tales come true this week!”
Lafeber, who has been plying his trade predominantly on the Challenge Tour this term after finishing in 180th place in The 2013 Race to Dubai, returns to European Tour duty this week aiming to roll back the years with another vintage display in his homeland.
Of the ‘foreign’ contingent, Simon Dyson will feel confident of ending his three-year trophy drought at a tournament in which he has excelled down the years.
Three of Dyson’s six European Tour titles have come at the KLM Open and, should he triumph again, the Englishman would become the first player to win the event on four occasions since it became part of The European Tour in 1972, and only the seventh player in European Tour history to win the same official event four or more times.
Also amongst those trying to prevent Dyson from creating history is Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who will make his first appearance on The European Tour since the US PGA Championship