Golf: Karlsson steps up self-development

Tim Glover sees another Swede profit at the expense of English rivals
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The Independent Online
PERHAPS ONLY a Swede could destroy a tendon in his left thumb caused, not with an ice hockey stick, but by excessive practice. Lars Gunnar Olaf Karlsson hit so many golf balls he needed an operation on his hand. Olle, as he is known, is 5ft 9in, 12st 4lb, was born in Falkenberg and lives in Marbella. He lists his interests as "cars, cooking, wines and music". Olle is not to be confused with Robert Karlsson, who is 6ft 5in, and 14st. He was born in St Malm, lives in Monaco and his interests are "skiing, fishing and self-development". His self-development is something of a misnomer.

Yesterday, Robert Karlsson - in appearance he is not dissimilar to Jack Nicklaus Junior who designed the front nine holes here at Hanbury Manor, the back nine originating from Harry Vardon - shot 63 in the third round of the Compass English Open, having narrowly made the halfway cut, to skate up the leaderboard at 10 under par for the championship. He had nine birdies and no bogeys although it was not without incident.

No leaderboard in Europe is safe from a Swede nowadays, whether it be Jarmo Sandelin, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Fredrik Lindgren, or a Karlsson. When Mark James, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, keeps talking about his vegetable garden he may have an unpretentious swede in mind. Sandelin, fourth in the points table, is on course to make his Cup debut against the United States in Boston in September and Robert Karlsson, currently 12th and about to improve on that, is also in the running.

Yet a few years ago, he was so confused he was tempted to give up the game. "The more I practised the better I got and the better I got the worse I would play in tournaments," Karlsson said. "It was unbelievably frustrating. I didn't know what I was doing. I worked with a psychologist until he told me he couldn't help me any longer. He gave me the name of a therapist."

In the archipelago about two hours outside Stockholm, Karlsson began attending the group therapy sessions of a man called Bengt Stern. "He does a lot of work with cancer patients and he takes a very broad approach. It isn't just about sitting and talking. I wasn't getting anything out of golf and I was developing destructive patterns on the course and elsewhere. Bengt has bone marrow cancer and seven years ago he was told he had two months to live. He helps people to find out what happens to them under pressure."

It was in 1996 that Karlsson lost his way, dropping to 102nd in the Order of Merit. Since becoming the only golfer on Mr Stern's books (the therapist also works with round-the-world yachtsmen), Karlsson improved to 10th in the money list in 1997 and was 17th last year, winning more than pounds 600,000 in the two seasons.

Karlsson, who is 29, went to the turn yesterday in 32 despite missing a three-foot putt at the eighth, and came home in 31, which would have been a 32 but for an extraordinary save on the par-three 16th. It is a fairly straightforward short hole, measuring 185 yards. There is no water but plenty of sand and a three-tiered green with a hollow in the middle.

Karlsson shanked his six-iron tee shot and the ball travelled so far right it ended up on the 15th fairway. From there he couldn't see the green. What he needed was a compass but, with a sand wedge, somehow he negotiated all the trouble - banks, bunkers, tiers and hollow - and his ball finished three feet from the flag. Karlsson, who had opened his account by driving the green at the first hole, a par four of 347 yards, skipped lunch to take a slightly longer drive after his round, to Wembley to watch the football international between England and Sweden. He didn't have a ticket, but was prepared to invest in a tout's self-development.