Mikko Ilonen can be described as Mr. Golf in his native country. Mikko has been the number one golfer in Finland since 2001, longer than any other European player in their respective countries.
Mikko’s career as a professional golfer began in 2001. Before that, in June 2000, he became the first Finnish golfer to historically win the Amateur Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. This title gave him the opportunity to compete in two European Tour events: the Scottish Open and the British Open. Mikko got to play at St. Andrews with the legends Tom Watson and Ian Woosnam.
In April 2001, Mikko, as the defending champion of the Amateur Championship, was invited to play in the Masters Golf Tournament. This time he got to play two rounds in Augusta with Tiger Woods.
After the Masters Mikko turned professional. He started his professional career with a bang, as he first successfully qualified to play in the Open, and finally finished ninth in the legendary tournament. As the season 2001 came to its end, Mikko was 119th on the European Tour money list. This gave him a "Tour Card" with a limited category for the 2002 season.
During the 2002 season, Ilonen played in 17 tournaments. He finished third in the Wales Open thus securing a Card for the 2003 season. In 2003 and 2004 Mikko played steadily on the Tour, and at the end of 2004 he finished 100th on the money list.
The year 2005 was significant for Ilonen, but not in a good way. He lost his confidence with his putter, and at the end of the season he was 154th on the money list. Mikko could not improve his situation either by attending the European Tour Qualifying School, or doing the same in Asia.
"That season was very, very important to me. The following winter I had a lot to do. I had to build a better mindset and get answers to the problems with my putter – my putting was a total mess.”
The turningpoint came in 2006, when Mikko had started playing on the European Challenge Tour. Thanks to a sponsor invitation he played the European Tour event in Austria, and finished strong with the lowest score on the Sunday. Mikko also succeeded in qualifying for the Open, the tournament venue being the Royal Liverpool Golf Club – the same course where Mikko had won the Amateur Championship in 2000.
As Tiger Woods won the title, Mikko finished 16th. He then got invited to play the Player's Championship in Germany the following week, and at this time he was as high as 15th on the money list. Mikko oozed of confidence, and even though he only played in ten events on the European Tour that year, he secured his Tour Card already in September by finishing seventh in Switzerland.
With a stroke average of 70.29, Mikko was fourth in this category in the final ranking for 2006. In a comparison with 2005, when his stroke average was 73.17, it was a real improvement and showed that Mikko's career was back on track.
Mikko got a great start already in February of the 2007 season by winning the Indonesian Open, and subsequently making Finnish golf history. Only six months later he won his second European Tour title in Stockholm. At the Scandinavian Masters thousands of spectators witnessed his fearless shot with a 4-iron on the last hole. The shot was chosen as European Tour’s "Shot of the Month”, as was also one of his shots in the tournament in Indonesia earlier that year.
During 2007 Mikko also won the Skills Games in Wales, was a member of the European Team in Seve Trophy, and represented Finland in the World Cup in China. That season, his official earnings totaled over 1.1 million euros.
In 2008 Mikko played steadily but could not finish in the top ten in any of his European Tour events. The 2009 season was also a struggle as his good ballstriking and putting did not correspond with the scores. Finally, in October, he saved the season, and his Tour Card, by finishing second to Ross McGowan in Madrid. In the end, Mikko finished in the top 100 on the money list for the third consecutive year.
The 2010 season started well. In April Mikko played the fourth round of China Open with Y.E. Yang, the defending champion of the PGA Championship, who finally won the competition. Ilonen finished fourth. Back in March he had also finished third in Morocco. Mikko finished within the top ten a total of five times 2010. Mikko also made history by successfully qualifing for the US Open at Pebble Beach for the first time in his career. In the end he finished in the top 100 on the money list, for the fourth consecutive year.
Mikko has also had a few breaks due to injuries over the years. The 2011 season ended in early June for Mikko, due to pain from his left ankle. Mikko decided to, after been adviced to do so, to go under surgery. This forced Mikko to take an unwanted break from the golf and he was not back to competetive golf that year.
Mikko's break from the golf course coincided with his wife Kati being pregnant with their first child, Eino, who was born in November 2011.
Naturally, rehabilitating from a surgery and with the new family situation, it took some time for Mikko to get back to form when he returned to the job in January 2012. The highlights of the season came during a period over the summer. Mikko had the best week of the year in Stockholm, where he finished third in Nordea Masters. His other top 10 came in the Irish Open, where he played the final round together with the local hero Rory McIlroy. Mikko and McIlroy tied the 10th place.
Mikko also qualified for the second time into the US Open and missed the cut by one shot. He finished 91st on Race to Dubai money list.
Mikko's peak of his career came during the seasons of 2013 and 2014. Mikko started of in a great manner by finishing second in both Morocco and China (China Open). During the first week of June he made it one better, winning the Nordea Masters (former Scandinavian Masters) for the second time. He lead over the weekend and his third European Tour title took him into the top 100 of the world rankings. Mikko also got eligible for the Open Championship and the PGA Championship later that same summer.
Mikko finished on a career high 23rd on Race to Dubai list and earned just over one million euros in official prize monies.
The following year was even better. Mikko knocked on the door already in Qatar, where he had a fight with Sergio Garcia for the win. It took three extra holes for Garcia to beat Mikko, who was in great form and finished fifth in Dubai the trailing week.
Mikko has had a love affair with Ireland since he won one of the biggest amateur competitions, West of Ireland, in the late 90´s. This affair continiued when Mikko entered the greens of Fota Island Resort in Rory McIlroy's tournament. Rory missed the cut but Mikko showed what he was there for already in the first round. His score of 64 took him into the lead, which he held all the way through the Sunday afternoon. Mikko walked off the 72nd green as a four time European Tour winner that Sunday.
The last Major of the year, the PGA Championship, was Mikko's breakthrough in America. He was in the top ten from the start and was only two shots behind after the turn on Sunday. In the end, Mikko finished seventh, which is his best Major result so far.
However, Mikko's 2014 season had more to give. Mikko's career highlight came thanks to the invitation into Volvo World Match Play Championship, played at the London Club, in October. After having lost his first match to Joost Luiten, Mikko showed was Finish sisu means. He won the next five matches, beating the three Ryder Cup players Graeme McDowell, Victor Dubuisson and Henrik Stenson in the final match. Mikko's fifth European Tour win also earned him biggest prize check of his career.
Mikko took a leap to the 37th place on the World Rankings. He ended up year 2014 collecting 1,65 million euros and finished 18th on the Race to Dubai list.
Thanks to his resluts in 2014, Mikko was eligible for all the biggest tournament except one in 2015. The most emotionally and greatest moment for Mikko was when he returned to Augusta National for the Masters Tournament, something he promised himself to achive 14 years earlier. Mikko had a memorable week, but missed the cut by one stroke.