Golf: In mad pursuit of glory

US PGA: Jesper Parnevik tries to exorcise the memories of missed chances with a victory bid at Winged Foot; Andy Farrell looks at the Swedish maverick getting serious for another major assault
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The Independent Online
Apparently, the reason a Jasper, Justin Leonard's nickname, rather than a Jesper, as in Parnevik, became the 126th Open champion was that there was a full moon over Royal Troon on that fateful Sunday last month. Parnevik can be affected at such moments unless he counteracts it in the right way, according to his coach Olaf Skipper. So while Leonard went for an intergalactic jig, the Swede remained in geostationary orbit.

Parnevik, who is known as "Mr Spaceman" on the US Tour, does not need much encouragement to let loose his loony side from Skipper, or "the one who ignites the fire", as he likes to be titled. Skipper, 42, was a musician who worked with Parnevik's comedian father, Bo, before taking up golf, turning professional and then evolving into the game's wackiest coach, and that includes Mac O'Grady, who once had Seve Ballesteros burying his bad memories in the Arizona desert.

Skipper has had Parnevik trying to visualise shots by imagining peas in orbit falling into a hole and going up to elderly women golfers at home in Florida and telling them how good they looked. "He was acting very strangely and I never did understand the point he was trying to make," Parnevik said.

But he of the upturned cap cannot claim he is not also a little mad. "Yes, but then again I think everyone is slightly mad," he admitted. When his second daughter was born earlier this year, the hospital needed to know a name for their forms. Parnevik had not yet thought about it, but put his hand in his pocket, came out with a pen, and decided upon Penny.

Parnevik meditates at the beach at sunrise, cleanses his system with lava sand, has had his blood magnetically analysed by Russians and believes in reincarnation. "I'm sure Jesper was a king in a previous life. One day he will rule at golf," Skipper said.

And that's the point, if slightly overstated. Parnevik has come close to winning three major championships, which is only one short of Colin Montgomerie's record in this miserable department. His two Open losses in Ayrshire, at Turnberry in '94 and at Troon, are well known, but the Swede will arrive at Winged Foot in Westchester County for this year's last major, the US PGA Championship, knowing he could have lifted the huge Wanamaker Trophy 12 months ago.

As the major that most closely resembles a regular US tour event, the US PGA lived up to its reputation by presenting a play-off last year at Valhalla between Mark Brooks and Kenny Perry. Brooks won after Perry had spent all his time after completing his final round in a TV studio. Parnevik finished joint fifth, as did Leonard, only two strokes outside the play-off.

"I had all those chances on the back nine," he recalled. "I played very well and had about six putts of six to ten feet and missed them all and lost by two. I felt I didn't take advantage of my chances."

Yet the tournament launched the Swede on a remarkable run of top-10 finishes on the US tour, both at the end of last year and during this. If he has gained a reputation for not winning then it should be remembered he has won three times in his career, all by large margins. The last two both came at the expense of Montgomerie, at the '95 Scandinavian Masters, where he became the first Swede to win on home soil, and at last year's Lancome Trophy. Monty started the final round with five birdies in a row, but lost by five.

"We cannot, cannot, cannot go to Valderrama without Jesper," Monty said in typically emphatic mode. No one deserves to be there more, since Parnevik would have qualified under the American system and would be on the bubble in the European rankings had not a decision been made a year ago to stop non- members of the European tour from earning ranking points when they play in counting events. Nick Faldo, for one, knows how difficult it is to qualify in the top-10 automatic spots by playing only a limited schedule in Europe.

With Faldo almost certainly not going to qualify and Jose Maria Olazabal down to 12th on the list, it is hard to see Ballesteros not picking his two senior players if he has to on 1 September. Parnevik's hopes must rest on Olazabal holding off the late challenges of his countryman Ignacio Garrido and Ireland's Padraig Harrington, both of whom have been given last-minute invitations to Winged Foot.

Ironically, Olazabal will be helped by injury suffered by his fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Martin. His broken wrist means Martin will not play another qualifying event and is highly doubtful for the match even if he remains in the top 10.

It would be hard, however, for Ballesteros to leave out the US PGA champion, should Parnevik achieve such a lofty feat this week. To do so, the 32-year-old must buck the trend of the year for major winners under 30. A stumbling block could be the return to winning form of the left-handed Texan Phil Mickelson, who at 27 is ripe to join Woods (21), Ernie Els (27) and Leonard (25) in the game's youth movement.