Jesper Parnevik :: model pro

2014 08 Jesper3

The guy with the funny hats. That will, most likely, be the reaction of the majority of golf fans to the mention of Jesper Parnevik’s name. However, there is so much more to the cordial Swede than an upturned visor.

Thirteen wins as well as three Ryder Cup appearances bear testimony to that. Had it not been for a catalogue of injuries, he could have achieved so much more, too. Now healthy and looking forward to joining the Champions Tour next year, he reflects on a career that, like the man himself, has far more to it than at first meets the eye…

First things first: how’s your game?

It’s pretty good. I’m quite happy with it. I’ve been injured for what feels like ten years, and I’ve had particularly bad luck on that front in the last few years, but now I’m back to feeling fit, healthy, and I’m able to play and practice as much as I want now, which is good. So, yeah, I’m feeling good.

You mentioned the injuries you’ve had over the past few years. You’ve had a bad time of it, haven’t you?

Yeah, it began with hip problems, which isn’t that uncommon if you’re a golfer, obviously. I think it all started for me because I’ve always been the kind of guy that has practiced a lot. Me and Vijay usually shut the range down at the end of tournaments! Because of that, my left hip got worn out and I ended up with a torn labrum, which required surgery.

Then I needed surgery on my right hip and I fractured my L4 vertebrae in four places. One of those pieces was rubbing against my sciatic nerve, so I had sciatica for many years. I also had a herniated disc and worn-out shoulders but, just when I thought everything was pretty good again, I cut my finger off on my boat.

Yeah, what happened there?

Well, it was a windy day and it was blowing so much that I couldn’t get back to the dock, so I had to use a rotating winch. The on/off button is on the floor of the deck and I had to adjust it. Somehow, my right hand got caught in the winch and it rotated a few times. My index finger got snapped off and my other three fingers were mangled.
"I’ve lost a bit of feeling in the hand but it’s functional, I’m able to play."

I actually thought I’d lost all the fingers on that hand. I put it under my T-shirt, took off for the hospital and didn’t look at my hand for about three hours. I remember asking one of the nurses how many fingers I had left. I was convinced I’d lost them all. But the surgery was successful and everything seems okay. I’ve lost a bit of feeling in the hand but it’s functional, I’m able to play and it doesn’t bother me too much.

You’re 48, nearly 49. Are you thinking about the Champions Tour?

Definitely. It’s funny, when I was about 30, I remember thinking I’d retire when I got to 40. Obviously, that didn’t happen! There was another time when I was about 35 or 36 and I was in a press conference and I said, ‘If you ever see my on the Champions Tour, shoot me because it means I don’t have a life’. .

Now, though, I’m looking forward to it. I guess you should never say never. I’ve talked to Nick Price and Freddie Couples about it and they love it. A lot of guys seem to want to try to stay on the PGA Tour as long as they can and are reluctant to play senior golf but it seems like as soon as they get out there, they’re re-born.

You turned pro nearly 30 years ago. Do you look at the game today and struggle to recognise it from when you started out?

A little bit, yeah. It’s a bit of a different game, for sure, and everybody looks a lot different. Everybody hits it so much harder today from the get-go. You pretty much grow up trying to hit it as hard and as high as you can.

Don’t get me wrong, there were times that I tried to hit it as hard as I could, too, but these days, it seems like guys are going 100% all-out on every shot. I mean, the distances they’re hitting it... and I don’t think that’s just down to equipment, either. Guys are much better built these days, which obviously helps. They’re training and working out to try and have swings that are as explosive as possible.
 "I remember my first few years on tour, you’d be standing on the range with Seve and you’d almost s**t yourself."

You hardly ever see slow, rhythmic swings any more. They’re much more aggressive. The game is played much more in the air now, too, and I think a bit of the finesse has been lost because of that. Players don’t shape the ball as much. Well, maybe om Bubba {Watson] does. He curves the ball a lot, to be fair. He’s like a long-hitting version of Corey Pavin. But it’s rare to see guys like that. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. It’s just the way it is.

Another big difference is that younger guys coming out on tour these days just aren’t intimidated any more. I remember my first few years on tour, you’d be standing on the range with Seve and you’d almost s**t yourself. But guys now are so prepared that, when they come out, they’re ready to win. In my day, there was more of a learning curve. You had to get used to coping with travel, pressure, different courses and so on. Guys these days just don’t have that.

Looking back on your career so far, how would you score it out of ten?

Well, you know what? I’m actually pretty happy with what I achieved. Sure, you can look back and think, ‘I could have done this better’ or ‘what if I’d done this different’ but I think you’ve always got to remember just how competitive a place professional golf is.

I had a seminar last summer in Sweden about what it takes to be the best, whether that’s in golf, or another sport, or music, or whatever. I tried to explain how tough it is to be the best and I said that it’s about 100 times harder than winning the lottery.

Now, think about how hard it is to win the lottery. Statistically, you have a better chance of dying on your way to buying the ticket than you have of actually winning it, so when I think back on my career, I have to put it in that kind of perspective. So, to answer your question, out of ten? I’d give myself a nine. Ten would have been winning a major, so, yeah, nine.

What’s been your best moment?


There are so many things. I have some brilliant memories from right back in my amateur days but, if I had to choose one, I’d go for the times I played in the Ryder Cup.

Yeah, let’s talk about that. You played on three teams. For those of us that will never play in the match, can you describe what it’s like?

It’s amazing. I’m sure for anyone who has ever played in it, it would be one of the highlights of their career. It is so much fun and has such a different energy than any other tournament, including majors.

It’s a different feeling because you’re not only sharing it with your team-mates, you’re sharing it with your country, and your continent. Any time I think about playing on Seve’s team in ’97, or playing alongside Sergio, or whatever, those are the kind of memories I feel really lucky to have.

The guys I’ve spoken to who have played in the Ryder Cup always talk about the feeling of hitting their first shot. What was it like for you?

I was so nervous that it’s all a bit of a blur. But put it this way: hitting your first shot in the Ryder Cup is tougher than playing the last hole of a major when you’re in the lead.
"I was so nervous I duck-hooked it."

At least then you’ve got a bit of momentum. My first match at Valderrama in ’97, I was playing with Per Ulrik Johansson and I was so nervous I duck-hooked it. Actually, I’m not sure if I don’t remember it or try not to.

Do you have any regrets? The two Open near-misses perhaps?

Yeah, but by the same token, those are good memories in a way. The thing that most people talk about is probably when I went straight at the pin on the 72nd hole at Turnberry in ’94.

People say I shouldn’t have done that. Okay, maybe. But it was having that aggressive mindset that got me as far as I got. If I was to have that chance again, I might play safe but, at the same time, perhaps not. Golf’s one of those games where you can’t have regrets.

The upturned visor. You must be sick of covering this but indulge us - why and how did it come about?

It all happened pretty soon after I turned pro. I went over to Florida one year to play in an event before the European Tour season started and, being from Sweden and the winter’s being as bad as they are over there, I arrived in the US looking pretty pale. So, I flipped my visor up to try and get a bit of a suntan on my face, which I did.

But it wasn’t just that. I also putted pretty well because my peripheral vision wasn’t obscured by anything. So, I kept it flipped up when I went back to Europe - more because I was putting better than anything - and, in one of my first events, in Mallorca, I ended up in a six-hole play-off with Seve. The crowd really loved it and I’ve kept it flipped up ever since.

Were you surprised by how much it caught people’s imagination?


Yeah. That was never really my intention. I think it said more about golf at that time than it did about me. The game was very one-dimensional. You didn’t need to do much to get attention. Everybody looked the same, everybody dressed the same, everybody played the same. So, I think the fact that I did things differently, first with the cap and then with other clothes, made me stand out a bit.

Does golf still have a one-dimensional problem? Does the game need more characters?

Yeah, it does but that’s down to the way guys are prepared today. There’s so much more mental training and focus than there used to be. It’s not the travelling circus it was before. Back then, it was a lot of fun.

All the players stayed in the same hotels and there were often parties on Friday nights, which you went to whether you made the cut or not, and you’d play in the tournaments but it was as if you were playing a practice round. That was the kind of attitude everyone had. It was more relaxed, more fun, there were a lot of laughs.

It’s actually too bad the European Tour wasn’t on TV more in those days because there were a lot of big characters around. Tony Johnstone, for example. He’s hilarious and easily one of the biggest characters ever to have played the game. Guys like him are hard to find these days.

 You’re rightly credited as something a trailblazer in terms of golf fashion. Do you see yourself as that?

I guess so, yeah. Johan Lindeberg deserves a lot of the credit, though. When he first approached me, he had this idea to go back to the time when golfers dressed smart. Something happened in the ‘80s when all the clothes became XXXL in size, very loose and tacky. The colours were bland and you had sleeves that came down over the elbows. It was pretty sloppy looking.
"Johan was a ahead of his time but it only took a few years before everyone tried to copy his style."

But when you look back at how it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, guys like Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan all dressed very fashionably. They looked chic, they looked good. So, Johan’s intention was to bring back that look, with some bright, vibrant colours and clothes that had a better fit and were made from nicer materials. Johan was a ahead of his time but it only took a few years before everyone tried to copy his style.

You were a bit like Europe’s answer to Payne Stewart in a lot of ways. It must have taken some guts to wear some of the clothes you wore.

Yeah, there were a lot of eyebrows raised the first few times I walked out on the range wearing tighter pants. I’m not sure the guys really knew what to think about it.

It’s funny, I remember the first pair of pants Johan gave me. They were so tight I could hardly bend over to pick the ball out of the hole but I shot a 63, so I didn’t really care.

Your cap, clothes, and impressive play put you in the golfing limelight, but you grew up in the limelight because your dad was so famous.

Puerto Rico Open presented by - Round Two

Yeah, I wasn’t really aware at first of just how big a deal that was because, it’s like anything else, you’re used to what you’re used to. But yeah, my dad was a famous comedian and a big household name in Sweden.

It wasn’t like it is today where everybody is famous for 15 minutes. In those days, once you were famous, you stayed famous. Dad was an amazing impersonator and had a TV show which was absolutely massive. Pretty much everybody in Sweden who was above three-years-old watched it.

How did you end up playing golf?

Well, dad was friends with a very famous Swedish ice-hockey player called Sven Tumba and they both got hooked on golf, dad in particular. It became a real obsession for him and he bought everything he could that he thought would make him a better player. Indoor hitting nets and all that stuff. After a while, I decided to try it out.
 "I wasn’t that into it at first and, back then, nobody in Sweden played golf."

I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t that into it at first and, back then, nobody in Sweden played golf. It was so rare I even took my clubs to school for a ‘show and tell’. The closest course to us was about an hour away.

Who were your heroes?

Well, it was hard to have any because there wasn’t any golf on TV. My dad would get his friends in the US to tape events off the TV over there and mail them over to us. But I suppose the player I always looked up to and admired was Seve. He had such style and charisma, and was obviously a great player, too.

I used to go and watch him in the Scandinavian Open. To grow up idolising him and then play on the Ryder Cup team he captained was truly special.

You obviously live in the US now but do you get back to Sweden often?

Yeah, we go back every summer. My parents and my wife’s parents are still there, so as school is out for summer in the US, we take the kids back there for about ten weeks or so.

We’ve always kept a close connection with Sweden and I think that’s the same for most people who move abroad. The traditions and customs you maybe took a bit for granted when you lived there become more important again.

Clearly, though, US life agrees with you. What do you like so much about America?

It’s a really easy way of life and I like the positive attitude that everybody has. Plus, it’s such a big country that it’s got everything you need. I remember when I first moved here. I couldn’t figure out why many Americans had never been abroad. I couldn’t understand it. Now, though, I do.
"Imagine Europe was one big country. You wouldn’t need to leave. That’s what America’s like."

You’ve got everything you need. You can go skiing, hang out on the beach, go to big cities. You can spend a lifetime travelling around it and still not see even a fraction of it. Imagine Europe was one big country. You wouldn’t need to leave. That’s what America’s like.

What’s life like it West Palm Beach? What do you do for fun?

It’s great. Over the last five or six years that I’ve been injured, I’ve had the chance to really live and enjoy the Florida lifestyle. Where we are, we can go boating, jet-skiing, and so on. I’m a real outdoors guy, so it really suits me.

Do you have famous neighbours?

Just other golfers, really. There are so many of us who live around here, which is great.

Can you see yourself staying there for the rest of your life or do you plan to move back to Sweden?

Well… I don’t like the Swedish winters, . No, seriously, we’re very happy here just now but never say never.

  • Jesper Parnevik in bunkered

This interview with Jesper Parnevik first appeared in issue 129 of bunkered (Published: February 2014)


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