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Swede Dreams

Robert Karlsson's Ryder Cup ambition

Posted Feb 01, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

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As the newly-crowned Master of Qatar, Robert Karlsson can look forward with confidence to a place the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor next October.  By then, he will be 42 and somewhat seasoned to be making only a third successive appearance in the event, but the truth is that he should have gained Ryder Cup honours much earlier in his career.

Karlsson was an obvious choice as a wild-card in the 1999 team at Brookline but skipper, Mark James, didn't trust him,  even though he finished 11th in the qualifying table.  Instead, the enigmatic Englishman made the curious decision of picking 13th-placed Andrew Coltart, who, like fellow rookies Jean Van de Velde and Jarmo Sandelin, was played in only the singles.

"The way things happened in 1999 definitely hurt," Karlsson has admitted. "It was a pretty inexperienced side, so I would have picked (Bernhard) Langer, if I was the captain.  These things happen in a career.  Funny, Coltart and I never talked about it.  Not a word. Perhaps he felt there was no need to.  After all, he wasn't the one who made the pick.  Then something very nice happened.  After I won the Deutsche Bank in Germany in 2006, I got this really sincere message from him. Though I never really thought about the 1999 Ryder Cup, maybe he did."

My earliest memory of the 6ft 5ins Swede is from the 1989 European Amateur Team Championship at Royal Porthcash where he thrashed no less a match-player than Darren Clarke by 7 and 6.  Two years later, as a 21-year-old professional, he made his first appearance in the Irish Open at Killarney _ where it is returning next July _ finishing a very creditable tied 23rd behind Nick Faldo, despite a wretched, third-round of 79. 

So he was something of a veteran when the Millennium came around.
That was when I had the unexpected good fortune of playing with him in the 2000 Irish Open Pro-Am at Ballybunion.  It was an occasion when I felt greatly relieved not to be playing foursomes with him, given the authority and pace of his short putts at the hole.  "Looking back, I think we were the luckiest players ever to play Ballybunion," he said.  "Sunshine and no wind.  It was a fabulous course to play, but I could see that is could be brutal in high winds, because at so many of the holes there is nowhere to hit the ball, except on the green."

It was also an occasion, incidentally, when the coffers of North Kerry restauranteurs were unlikely to have been enhanced by his patronage, as a consequence of a diet he had embarked upon earlier that year.  When we talked about it some time later, he smiled at the memory.  The diet involved a three-week regime of milk and white bread.  Nothing more. And at the same time, he eliminated all distractions from his life by leaving the television and his mobile phone switched off.

"It worked," he recalled. "I lost about 12 kilos in weight, but the real objective was to stop poisoning my body.  That was the advice I got from an old Austrian doctor who was an expert on diet.  He told me that everything you eat after three in the afternoon stays in your system until the following morning, poisoning you. So I tried to eat as little as possible during the evenings.  I suppose I was prepared to do anything within reason to try and become a better golfer and had no difficulty in understanding why Jesper (Parnevik) ate volcanic ash.   It's a Swedish thing.  We try to take care of our bodies. I used to fast until I discovered it wasn't benefiting my golf."  

Which led me to wonder about his latest level of deprivation.  "Oh, that's all in the past," he said.  "Now I eat anything I like.  For instance I developed a real liking for ribs while playing in the US in 2006. Delicious."  Good God!, I remember thinking at the time, this paragon of self-denial had become just like the rest of us.  He is also pleased to have put behind him the competitive brinkmanship which saw him retain European Tour status at the end of the 2004 season by a decidedly precarious E13.47.

Looking at the tall, athletically-slim Swede, it's not difficult to picture him with the bearing of a young commanding officer who might quell dissent in the ranks simply with a cutting phrase.  Yet he is admirably warm and forthcoming about all aspects of his golfing career, including a one-time, decidedly quirky diet. 

- Dermot Gilleece

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