Paluu is a Finnish term meaning a comeback or return to fame.
It’s certainly a word Mikko Ilonen is quite familiar with these days. The Lahti-born European and PGA Tour vet has stormed back from a 2011 ankle surgery that saw him fall to 334th in the world rankings. After finishing second at the Qatar Masters in January, Ilonen won the Irish Open this summer and capped off arguably the biggest win of his career when he bested top-seed Henrik Stenson to win the Volvo World Match Play Championship in October.
Ilonen has climbed all the way to 39th in the world rankings and sits at 13th in the Race to Dubai heading into the Turkish Airlines Open.
I caught up with Ilonen after last week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai where he finished in a tie for 46th to talk about his season so far, winning the Match Play, juggling his many responsibilities, role models and his desire to return to Magnolia Lane.
How are you feeling about the state of your game right now?
MI: Right now I feel like it’s going up. I had a couple tough weeks health wise in China and now it feels like I can concentrate on golf again.
What are you working on?
MI: Chipping and putting. Putting is the strongest part of my game and I want to keep it that way.
When you aren’t on the course or at the range, where will we find you?
MI: I like good food and like to go eat in good restaurants when traveling. Might also see me with my physio in the evenings in the gym.
Talk about your practice routine.
MI: I try to do very little in tournament weeks, just that I’m ready to play, put my mind on scoring, play 18 or 27 holes to see the course. Using physio helps me to be ready to play the next day, feeling fresh.
How would you grade yourself on the season to date?
MI: My best season ever. Two wins and finally a good result in states (T7 at PGA Championship). A lot of good weeks. Some to forget but not too many.
What did it mean to you to win the Volvo World Match Play?
MI: It means that my name will go beside some legends of the game. Unreal. Was good to win over some Ryder Cuppers along the way.
What has been helpful to your game?
MI: Getting married and having kids has been the best thing for my golf career. They have helped me to raise my level by simply getting my mind off the game every now and then.
Did you always want to be a golfer?
MI: I never thought about doing anything else. If I wasn’t playing, I'd have more kids and have a kindergarten at home…
Who is your favorite golfer?
MI: Tough one. Let’s say Tiger. The way he dominated the game for years was unreal. And he has been very good for golf in our era.
How do you juggle your playing responsibilities and making time for your family?
MI: I have a good wife at home; ever grateful for her. I try to be 100 percent present when with them. Spending less time on the course and managing my time better is the key.
Who are your role models?
MI: My brother (Sami) is my role model outside golf. He takes such good care of his family. I learned a lot from him in that area of life.
Who is filling out your dream foursome and where are you playing?
MI: My mum, dad and brother at the Old Course.
What is still on your golf career bucket list?
MI: Going back to Augusta as a pro is one and lifting one the major trophies.