Golf: Haeggman the catalyst for Swedish conversion: Tim Glover reports from Madrid on the Ryder Cup target of a youthful recruit to an unlikely army making a considerable impression on golf's European Tour

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The Independent Online
WHEN Tony Jacklin captained the European Ryder Cup team he predicted, with a degree of confidence, that the Swedes, like the Spanish, would be a major force. It has taken longer than expected but Joakim Haeggman's impressive victory in the Peugeot Spanish Open here on Sunday may prove to be the catalyst.

Haeggman has won enough money in the last two weeks to move to eighth in the Ryder Cup points table with pounds 177,499 and in the Volvo Order of Merit he has advanced to fourth. At 23 he said he had not given the Ryder Cup, at least the 1993 version, a thought. His target was selection for the team in 1995. After Sunday his plans have been revised.

When Jacklin said that the Swedes were coming he was thinking of players like Anders Forsbrand, Mats Lanner and Ove Sellberg. Although all have won tournaments on the European Tour none have made the conclusive breakthrough to superstar status or Ryder Cup recognition. At the time Jacklin made his prediction Haeggman was 13 years of age and did not even own a full set of clubs.

It all started for him in 1979 when he found a golf ball in the water at the first hole of his local club at Kalmar, a northern town in Sweden. 'It was a Topflite six,' Haeggman said. 'I kept it for years.' He had a ball and when he found one of his brother's clubs, a Ben Sayers six-iron, the means to hit it. 'My mum would make me sandwiches and I'd cycle to the golf club. I used to stay there all day.' Nick Faldo did the same at Welwyn Garden City.

In the final round here Haeggman and Faldo both scored 68 and the Swede won by two strokes from the world No 1. 'I saw my chance and I grabbed it,' Haeggman said. 'I was not going to fool around.' It was his second victory over Faldo in successive weeks. In the Benson and Hedges International at St Mellion - he was joint fourth there - he defeated Faldo in a fishing competition. Even that was competitive. 'He didn't like it one little bit,' Haeggman said.

On Tour the Swedes present a united front. They often practise together and socialise together and most of their leading players, Haeggman included, are supported by the Swedish Golf Federation. On their shirts, sweaters and visors they wear their country's flag under the emblem 'Hello Sweden'.

'It helps that in Sweden we have a lot of national team meetings and we do a lot of training together,' Per- Ulrik Johansson said. 'But more importantly we get along.' In 1991 Johansson, the Rookie of the Year, teamed up with Forsbrand and Lanner to win the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews and the following month Johansson and Forsbrand won the World Cup in Rome.

This season it is not Johansson or Forsbrand who have been flying the flag but the younger Swedes, Haeggman, Anders Gillner and Pierre Fulke. It is a trend that is likely to increase. A recent report by Sports Marketing Surveys, commissioned by the PGA, showed Sweden and France were attracting a higher percentage of young players into the game than Britain. It also showed more players were taking instruction in those countries than in Britain. Only 8 per cent of Britain's golfers surveyed had a handicap of nine or below compared with Sweden's 13 per cent.

In 1990 there were 289,000 players in Sweden and by last year the figure had increased to 330,000, a rise of more than 14 per cent. There have been similar increases in Britain but the figures which worry the PGA are those dealing with quality rather than quantity. In 1980 Great Britain and Ireland had 60 per cent of the players in the top half of the European Tour Order of Merit, the rest of Europe only 15 per cent. By last year the figures had changed to Britain and Ireland 48 per cent, Europe 28.5 per cent. A similar pattern is emerging from the Tour's qualifying school.

Haeggman, who went to the qualifying school in 1989, is the product of an efficient national system. Even when they are forced into their country's military service Haeggman, and players like him, enjoy special privileges. He was a member of the golf platoon and 30 per cent of his time was devoted to the game. He turned professional at 19 and won the Swedish strokeplay championship. Last season, despite being out of action for six weeks when he broke a rib in an ice hockey game, he played in 25 tournaments and made money in 21 of them, finishing 49th in the Order of Merit with pounds 112,000.

This year he has already had six top-10 finishes and was never off the leaderboard at St Mellion. 'My play in the first two rounds was so good it was frightening,' he said. Others, Johansson for one, who have been in similar situations to Haeggman, have found it difficult to sustain the standard. Haeggman gives the impression of being different. He is different. He is not of the ice-cool school and has a reputation for club throwing. 'I'm not as bad as I used to be,' he said.

EUROPEAN RYDER CUP STANDINGS: 1 B Lane 303,457.11pts; 2 N Faldo 291,202.50; 3 C Montgomerie 254,214.12; 4 M James 251,331.58; 5 J Spence 210,577.65; 6 D Gilford 185,715.93; 7 P Broadhurst 181,645.95; 8 J Haeggman (Swe) 177,499.26; 9 C Rocca (It) 175,852.34; 10 J-M Olazabal (Sp) 173,412.50; 11 M-A Jimenez (Sp) 172,995.32; 12 S Lyle 172,109.01; 13 S Richardson 169,327.91; 14 B Langer (Ger) 164,751.48; 15 J Payne 156,556.24.