Sami Välimäki has become the first Finnish player to be named the European Tour’s Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year after an impressive 2020 campaign which included a maiden win at March’s Oman Open and culminated in a top five finish at the season-ending Rolex Series event, the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
The 22-year-old’s first season on the European Tour comprised seven top ten finishes, including his victory in Oman, a runner-up finish in Wales and a top five in last week’s finale, which helped him finish 11th in the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex. Välimäki, who earned his European Tour card through Qualifying School last year, sealed victory in just his sixth European Tour start at the Oman Open in March, overcoming South Africa’s Brandon Stone in a play-off at Almouj Golf.
After the European Tour’s four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Välimäki rekindled that early season form at the UK Swing’s double-header at Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, where a top ten in the Celtic Classic was followed directly by a runner-up finish in the ISPS HANDA Wales Open – losing out to Romain Langasque by two strokes.
A top ten in the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters followed two weeks later and, after making his Major Championship debut in September’s U.S. Open, he picked up another strong finish courtesy of a share of sixth place at the Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Open in November.
The former European Amateur Team Championship winner with Finland entered the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 18th position on the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex, before producing one of the best performances of his career over the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Playing alongside the would-be Race to Dubai Champion Lee Westwood in the final round, Välimäki enjoyed a stunning start with four birdies in the opening five holes. He signed for a fourth successive 69 for a share of fifth place, elevating him to 11th place in the final Race to Dubai Rankings.
“I am absolutely delighted to receive the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award,” said Välimäki, from Nokia in the south of Finland. “It became a goal of mine, especially going into last week in Dubai, so it is an incredible feeling to finish it off with a strong final performance of 2020, and to be the first player from Finland to get this award is really special.
“I had a dream start to my season really, by winning so early in Oman and then the season was put on hold just a few weeks later. I am really proud of how I performed after the return to golf and some of the results I had, especially my performance at the DP World Tour Championship. Winning a tournament was a target for me and to win this award is amazing.”
Välimäki was chosen as Rookie of the Year by a panel comprising the European Tour’s Chief Operating Officer Keith Waters, Deputy Director of Tournament Operations David Probyn, and two members of the Tournament Committee, Chairman and European Tour Board Member David Howell and former European Tour Number One Robert Karlsson.
He joins an impressive list of former winners which include Sir Nick Faldo (1977), Martin Kaymer (2007), Brooks Koepka (2014) and Jon Rahm (2017), all of whom have gone on to become World Number One.
Keith Waters, the European Tour’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “Many congratulations to Sami for a truly superb campaign on the European Tour and for making history by becoming the first Finn to win the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award.
“It was another very good year for rookies on the European Tour, with Denmark’s Rasmus Højgaard a strong contender after also demonstrating his incredible talent with two victories and finishing top of the UK Swing mini Order of Merit.
“However, the panel ultimately chose Sami for his performances across the entire season, including a victory at the Oman Open in just his sixth appearance and a fine performance in the DP World Tour Championship, with four other top tens in between, as he finished 11th in the Race to Dubai. That is a fine achievement for any rookie and testament to his character and undoubted talent, making him a deserving winner of this award.”