I was six years old when I hit a golf ball for the first time. My uncle Wim had brought me along to the driving range at Golf Centrum Rotterdam. Right away it felt fantastic to smash those balls as far out as possible.
I pick up sports easily. As a child I played a lot of sports and played soccer with the Soccer Boys in my hometown of Bleiswijk. Eventually I decided to focus on golf. In golf, you're not reliant on others, and, when you do make a mistake, you have no one but yourself to blame - that appeals to me.
'At the end of 2006, when I announced that I wanted to turn pro during a press conference, the journalists asked me what my goal was. I answered that I wanted to be number one in the world.'
I'm the youngest of four brothers. As a kid, I was always competing against Dennis, Sander, and Nico, and that experience has undoubtedly shaped me. We spent a lot of time together, and whether we were playing games or doing sports, I always wanted to win. If you want to beat your three older brothers, you have no choice but to push yourself to the limit. That is the same mentality I have as a top athlete: do everything in your power to win and to reach the top.
People are always surprised when they find out that I did ski jumping. I used to do winter sports activities every year with my brothers and parents. I was spotted during an introductory ski jumping session that a ski association had organized on a nearby slope. The coaches thought that I had talent, and so I began traveling to Germany many weekends to train. I'm not easily frightened, then or now, and I got a high from hurtling off the ski jump. I got as far as 60 meters, and then it all went wrong. After landing wrong on a jump, I broke both my elbow and my nose. The accident could have been far worse, though. I understood why my father made me stop ski jumping. I was ten when that happened. Even now I'd dare to go off a ski jump, but I don't think that would be a very smart thing to do.
I earned my HAVO diploma (Dutch general secondary education for ages twelve-seventeen), but school never held my interest like golf did, or offered the same discipline. Whenever my friends and my brothers would go out to bars, I usually stayed home. A lot of young athletes struggle with the temptation to go out, but I never found it difficult to stay in. I wanted to perform my best the next day on the golf course. I quickly realized not only what I had to do, but also what I had to give up, in order to reach the top.
Could I become a pro golfer? Could I play on the European Tour? I was sixteen or seventeen when I first felt those things just might be possible. I had won the Spanish and German Amateur Championships and was playing against young guys like Martin Kaymer and Rory Mcllroy. Once you see that you're keeping up with the top talent, believing that you're good enough to turn pro and succeed comes naturally.
One of my greatest memories in golf is winning the world title in 2006 with the Dutch amateur team. In South Africa, we managed to stay out in front of major golf countries like America and England. No one expected the Netherlands to become world champions, but we pulled it off anyway. In the final round, I finished with birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie. As a golfer, it's very special to be part of a team; it really brings something extra out of you. I hope to be able to participate very soon in a winning European Ryder Cup team.
My parents have done so much for me. They drove me to all of my golf tournaments when I was younger, and they were always there for me, supporting me when I was struggling. My parents are proud of me, but they also keep me grounded. Staying level-headed when things go well - I absolutely learned that from my father and mother. They enjoy my successes enormously, and I enjoy seeing that. And, obviously, they still regularly attend my tournaments.
At the end of 2006, when I announced that I wanted to turn pro during a press conference, the journalists asked me what my goal was. "I answered that I wanted to be number one in the world. Many people found that announcement arrogant. They thought, 'Just who does this Luiten guy think he is?' I don't really understand that kind of reaction. I would find it really strange if I said that my goal was to rank among the top 50 golfers in the world. Doesn't every elite athlete strive to be number one? I'm not saying that I'll become the best golfer in the world, but I will do everything in my power to reach that first-place position.
In 2008 and 2009, I had a lingering wrist injury. When the pain kept returning, and the doctors couldn't find any solutions, I began to feel a bit desperate. My dream to become a top golfer seemed to be slipping away before I'd even really begun my career. That was a very trying period, but luckily everything worked out. Dr. Richard Koch operated on my wrist, and in 2010; I was able to participate full-time on the European Tour. Because of that wrist injury, I now better understand what a privilege it is to be able to make a career out of playing golf.
I have won four tournament: 2011 Iskandar Johor Open, 2013 Lyoness Open, 2013 KLM Open and the 2014 ISP Handa Wales Open. Winning a tournament is the best experience possible. It's addictive; nothing comes even close to that incredible rush. Unfortunately, you don't win a lot in golf. When I do win a tournament, I celebrate it with my family, friends, and coaches, and I really let loose at those times. I gladly suffer the hangover I have the next morning!
I think I have a good relationship with the press. I always try to be myself and to answer questions candidly. I'm also good at handling criticism. If I play badly, I have absolutely no issues with the journalists who write that I wasn't at my best. The better you perform, the more attention you receive from the media. It simply comes with the turf, and I deal with it professionally. But I became a golfer because I love sports, not to stand in the limelight.
I made my debut in the Masters at Augusta National in April 2014. It was even better than I had anticipated. The golf course, the traditions—everything was perfect. The Masters is my favorite tournament, and I hope to be able to play in it often. Naturally, I hope one day to be awarded that lovely green jacket!
I usually play my best under extreme pressure. It's not that I'm immune to the pressure, quite the opposite. When I sank the short putt for victory at the 2013 KLM Open, I could feel my hands trembling. In those kinds of moments, you can't be intimidated, though it's normal to feel nervous in a situation like that. I stared down the line of my putt and told myself, 'Come on, Joost, you've made this putt a million times, just get the ball in the hole.' That thought helped me not only calm down but it also made my dream come true – winning an Open.
I live in Rotterdam and Feyenoord is the soccer team I root for. If I'm in the Netherlands and Feyenoord plays at home, I join the crowd in the stadium. I've also become an ambassador for Feyenoord. In 2012, I went to the stadium for an appointment. To my surprise, I was allowed to train with the elite team, under the guidance of Coach Ronald Koeman. It was a wonderful experience, and I wasn't half bad at playing soccer, but I believe that I chose right when I chose golf!
Every victory is special, but of course the win at the 2013 KLM Open stands out from the rest. Winning in my own country with my family and friends in the stands was phenomenal. As a Dutch golfer, the support of the home crowd makes you surpass yourself. Every golfer dreams of winning an Open at least once. It's so great that I managed to do that. Let's just hope it doesn't stay at that - one win at the KLM Open.
If you're the best golfer in your country, you automatically become an ambassador for the sport. I absolutely feel a responsibility to promote golf in the Netherlands. I hope I can share my passion for golf with others, most of all with children. If children experience how much I like golf, they might also become excited and decide to give it a try.
I've made a hole-in-one twice on the European Tour. The first time was at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in 2007; the second was during the Dubai World Championship in 2012. I didn't receive anything for that last ace, but for the first one, I got an Audi TT Roadster. I have that car to this day. You never forget a hole-in-one, and that's definitely true for the double eagle I scored in January 2014 at the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban. Two shots on a par five - that felt great.
I used to be a scrawny little guy, but I've become much stronger by training hard in the gym. The extra muscle mass doesn't necessarily help me hit farther, but it does help prevent injuries. Being a pro golfer is a wonderful life, but it can also be intense. The traveling in particular is draining. That's why golfers are increasingly becoming athletes. I don't even touch a golf club at certain points in the year, but I do work out every day.
I love golf. Even now that it's my profession, I'm just as crazy about the game as I was years ago. The great thing about golf is that it has everything. It demands both mental and physical stamina, and it's a highly technical, multifaceted sport. Drives, hitting with irons, pitching, chipping, bunker play, and putting: You have to master all of these in order to become the best. Golf is never boring. I'm so busy with golf now that I no longer play with friends. That will definitely happen again once I retire from being a professional golfer. Nice and relaxed golf, goofing around with my friends - that sounds great to me.