When Erik Oja came to America — and the UA — from Sweden in 2010, his English wasn’t an issue. It was “OK,” he said.
Now a senior, he’ll occasionally add an “s” to words that don’t need it, but now it’s safe to say his English is good.
For Arizona’s golf team to get back to its historically winning ways in Oja’s final season, though, he might need to be a little bit better than good.
Oja, pronounced “Oh-yah,” is the best golfer right now at a program that has produced the likes of Jim Furyk, Rory Sabbatini and Ricky Barnes.
Oh, and he’s not the first Swede to make the trek to the Old Pueblo.
Ever heard of Annika Sorenstam?
“I want to be an All-American,” he said. “As a team, I think the way we work I think we’re gonna be one of the most prepared teams out there and one of the hardest working. On paper, no one’s expecting us to be one of the top teams, but with our work ethic I think we could be one of those teams that’s going to play at the top of our ability and do well this season.”
The Wildcats missed the NCAA championships last year, their first under coach Jim Anderson. They haven’t made the postseason in the last three years.
They did make it to the NCAA Tempe Regional but finished tied for the second-worst score (19 over par) in the 14-team tournament.
Oja was Arizona’s best in Tempe (tied for 17th, 2 under), as he was the rest of the 2012-13 and much of the last three years he’s been in Tucson.
Oja, who stands 6 feet 3 inches and weighs 180 pounds, led Arizona in events played (14), stroke average (72.83), top-10 finishes (4) and had the lowest round of any player (66), the lowest tournament score (210/6 under), and most rounds at or under par (15).
“Erik’s an incredible talent,” Anderson said. “Physically, he’s capable of executing every shot that he needs to play at the highest. I would expect some great things from him this year because he’s going to be putting it all together.
“Knowing that this is his last year in college golf, and he has ambitions beyond this, this is his tune-up for what he wants to do for a living here for his next 10, 20, 30 years.”
Over the summer, Oja had another tune-up. He played for the Swedish national team and competed in the British Amateur Championship in England, and the European Amateur Team Championships in Denmark and Spain.
His favorite stop was in England.
“It’s a different kind of golf game there,” he said. “The wind was blowing and I kind of found out that I need to learn some new shots and get good at a lower ball fly, stay out of the wind. I realized that If I want to get better at that kind of golf, I need to get better at hitting more different kind of shots so it was good to have that at the start of the summer.”
The Wildcats start their fall season Saturday with the Carmel Cup in Monterey, Calif. For Anderson, he’s just excited to see how Oja’s summer will pay dividends.
“When he told me he was named to the Swedish national team I was quietly more excited about it then he was,” Anderson said, “because I knew what that meant because of how he was going to be preparing all year round.
“The opportunities he had to compete this summer are going to make it to where he’s ready to compete and give his best for Arizona this year, and I won’t be surprised when we see him atop many leaderboards.”
That’s leaderboards, with an “s.”