Golf: Hats off to Parnevik, golf's oddball

A strange Swede in a funny cap can make a lasting impression on the US Masters. Andy Farrell reports from Augusta
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The Independent Online
Jesper Parnevik is not the most famous member of his family in Sweden. Bo Parnevik, his father, is one of his country's top comedians. If humour is in the genes, then it is not so much of the funny-haha or funny-peculiar variety, as funny-endearingly bonkers.

On a tour of identikit golf professionals, Parnevik will stand apart as he walks the fairways of Augusta National in his first US Masters. Not only is there his trademark cap with the upturned peak, but this year he is wearing tight-fitting clothing, mostly in shades of brown designed by a Swedish firm which make him look like something out of the 1970s.

Then again, Parnevik is a man who has been known to munch the odd plateful of volcanic sand. The sand helps cleanse his system, apparently, and he once lived off it, only eating fruit in addition, for three months. "It's really expensive," he said. "I don't know why. It tastes just like regular dirt."

Other things the 32-year-old from Stockholm, now living in South Palm Beach in Florida, has done include wearing battery-powered strobe light glasses to help synchronise neural firings in his brain and consulting a Russian psychic who had worked with Mikhail Gorbachev.

"I always like to find new ways to improve, not only to improve my game, but to improve personally," Parnevik said. The hat thing started when he was practising in Florida before the 1992 European season and wanted to get a bit of a tan. He found his eyeline was not distracted by the peak of his cap and started to hole more putts. In his next tournament, Parnevik got into a play-off which Seve Ballesteros won at the seventh extra hole.

Parnevik has won three times on the European Tour and each time by a stretch but, typically, would like to win in a tight, dramatic finish. At the Lancome Trophy last September, in which he beat Colin Montgomerie by five shots, he lit up a cigar on the last hole to win a bet with a friend despite the fact that he does not smoke.

The price of sponsoring the underside of Parnevik's cap peak could have gone sky high if he had won the Open at Turnberry in 1994. Coming to the last, infamously as it turned out, he had not looked at the leaderboard and believing he needed a birdie, was too aggressive and took a bogey. Meanwhile, Nick Price closed eagle-birdie-par to win by one. Later that summer, Parnevik made a television advertisement for a hotel chain, saying he had recently had a little difficulty with numbers before giving the relevant telephone number.

Parnevik first started playing regularly on the US Tour in '94 and found his strong driving and good ball-striking was an asset there. A number of high finishes at the end of last year included a fifth place at the US PGA Championship, which qualified him for his Masters debut this week. "The reason I came to America was to play in the majors regularly," Parnevik said. "I can't explain why I suddenly started getting good results. The difference between winning and finishing 30th on tour is so small."

Brad Faxon, for one, was impressed and tipped off the members at his local club that Parnevik was a man to watch this year. Last week, when the Swede was runner-up to Faxon in New Orleans, it was his sixth top- five finish of the season. He is currently the third on the US money list with $602,270 (pounds 376,200), has the second best scoring average behind Tiger Woods and fourth best European on the world rankings. But unless he commits to playing a minimum of seven events in Europe, plus the four majors, he is not eligible to earn Ryder Cup points.

Whether Ballesteros will pick him as wild card depends on others, such as Jose Maria Olazabal or Nick Faldo, qualifying automatically. As an aside, Faldo declined to let Parnevik join him and Per-Ulrik Johansson, another Swede making his Augusta debut, preferring to stick to a two-ball here. Parnevik laughed it off, since that is his attitude this week.

"I have been talking to Greg Norman and Steve Elkington and they said you just have to laugh at things this week, because when you start putting off greens it can get pretty weird here." It should suit Parnevik perfectly, then.