Sensitive Karlsson leaves his fears behind

Swedish beanpole climbs back towards his peak after years of playing the blame game
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The Independent Online

From the cries of "Super shot, Robbie" that have been heard at Wentworth over the past few days it can be taken that Rob-ert Karlsson has already been conferred the honorary Brit status offered to all Continental European Ryder Cup players.

As Jim Furyk, slain by the Swedish beanpole on Thursday, discovered, Karlsson has no problem making birdies. But his career has been a more personal struggle since he ran Nick Faldo close at the European Open at Sunningdale back in 1992. On a number of occasions he has contemplated giving up the game, but his perseverance has been rewarded this summer with wins in Wales and Germany, bringing his total of European Tour titles to seven, a record for a Swede, and a place at the K Club.

As a golfer Karlsson stands out at 6ft 5in. Being that tall causes its own problems with the swing, but the 37-year-old's troubles have always been mental rather than technical. Principally, the dichotomy of being a fully paid-up member of the human race and a top-level sportsman at the same time.

"Robert is the worst sort of person to play golf," said Goran Zachrisson, a renowned commentator and journalist in Sweden who has known this son of a greenkeeper since he was a boy. "He is intelligent and sensitive, which is the exact opposite of what you need to be; unintelligent and insensitive works better.

"He is a person's person, always interested in other people's point of view. But even when he was an amateur he was talking about giving up the game. Then the idiot would go and win another event. He always blamed himself for playing badly. For him to stop blaming himself and start enjoy playing has taken a long time."

Karlsson underwent all manner of counselling and psychotherapy, sometimes being left in contorted positions for hours, and extreme diets. More recently he has worked with a life coach, Annchristene Lundstrom.

"I wouldn't call her a mental coach," he said. "She has never played golf and is not a trained psychologist. She helps with how I approach my life and I am now a lot happier with my relationships on and off the course and with myself."

Karlsson married three years ago and has two children. The family man has benefited on the course. His Ryder Cup debut comes seven years after he was controversially overlooked by Mark James for a wild card in favour of Andrew Coltart. A year later, his game was in tatters and he almost gave up again.

"In 2000 I played very poorly and I felt very lost on the golf course," he explained. "That's why I wanted to stop playing. It had nothing to do with the Ryder Cup. I was trying too hard. I wanted so badly to really play well. Golf is so mental. If you don't feel relaxed and happy on the course, you have no chance.

"But it feels, after so many years of feeling like I should be able to play good, now I am actually doing it, and that's fantastic. I keep it very simple. I'm a tall guy, so I need to keep posture and balance and aiming in shape, and that's about it. The rest is only to make me enjoy my game on and off the course and with my family and keep the whole package in check."

Of all the golfers and their holiday homes, Karlsson is the only player to have one in Vouellerin, at the top of Sweden. "For three months in the winter you don't see the sun," he said. "There is just this blue light. And of course it is the opposite in the summer. But it is a wonderful part of the world, so beautiful both summer and winter. No one knows me as a golfer there. You can't get more away from it all."

Otherwise, Karlsson lives in Monaco, which means he has not seen a shot hit in the past two Ryder Cups, as there has been no television coverage in France. But he has played in two Seve Trophies and should make a wonderful fourball partner.

He may not be known to many of the Americans but Ian Woosnam, his captain, unlike Furyk, knows all about his ability to make birdies. "He played with me in the third round of the Deutsche Bank and I birdied six of the first seven holes, so I think he is aware of how I play," Karlsson said.