Jesper Parnevik / Age: 51October 19, 2016

My Shot: Jesper Parnevik

On going naked at The Belfry, his cure for the yips, and the value of a group scream.
With Guy Yocom
Photographed by John Loomis on Sept. 12, 2016, at home in Jupiter, Fla.
Photographed by John Loomis on Sept. 12, 2016, at home in Jupiter, Fla.

Ryder Cup at Valderrama, 1997. I'm playing with Ignacio Garrido against Tiger Woods and Justin Leonard. We're all square playing the 17th hole, a par 5, and the Americans are on in two. I'm playing our third from the fairway. I'm staring at a tough pin, water fronts the green, I've got a downhill lie, and I'm nervous as can be. I'm making a million practice swings, trying to find a swing to fit the shot. Just as a I settle over the ball, I hear a voice yell, "Jesper, stop! Don't hit!" I look up, and there's Seve Ballesteros, our captain, running down the hill toward me, waving his arms. Alarmed, I step away. "What is it, Seve?" I ask. He replies, "I just want to say, don't hit it in the water." Can you imagine someone saying such a thing? Seve was a chaotic captain. He was all over the golf course, constantly advising players, sometimes to excess. At one point Colin Montgomerie told him, "Seve, I've got this." But Seve also was inspirational, our Arnold Palmer, and for some reason, every unusual thing he did turned out perfectly. That shot he told me not to hit in the water? I wedged it close, and we ended up halving the hole, and the match.

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The first time I played against Seve was also the first week I turned the bill of my cap up so it wouldn't distract me while I was putting. It was at Mallorca in Spain, and we got into a playoff. At least five times I had Seve beat. He would snap-hook his drive, gouge it out to 40 yards short of the green, pitch it to 15 feet and then make it. Meanwhile, I'd hit it to 20 feet for birdie and then miss the putt. On the sixth hole, he beat me.

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At the 1994 Open at Turnberry, I had the lead going into the back nine on Sunday and made a point of not watching the leader board. It was only my second Open, and I was in a zone. I was afraid that if I saw where I stood, there was a good chance I'd get too careful and tighten up. So I decided to put my head down, play as aggressively as I could, and see where it took me. It worked, because I birdied five holes on the back nine to take a three-stroke lead and led by two playing the last hole. I bogeyed the 18th, coming up short of the green with my second and leaving myself with a tough chip that I didn't get up and down. As I signed my scorecard, I watched as Nick Price eagled the 17th. He then parred the last to beat me by one. It turned out to be my best chance at a major. Should I have looked at the leader board? Maybe, because I then would have aimed at the fat part of the green. On the other hand, if I'd looked, my inexperience might have led to me getting too cautious and robbed me of the good chance I had going down the last. And if I'd hit it on the green but a long way from the hole, I might have three-putted, which would have been even more painful. You just never know. So, no regrets.

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A journeyman player on the PGA Tour had a great chance to win the Masters but shot something like 78 in the final round and lost. When a reporter asked him what he would have done differently, he said, "I could not have shot one shot better." What a great answer. Obviously he tried on every shot. He did the absolute best with what he had at the time. Now, would he play differently next time? Perhaps, because he'd have more experience. But at the moment, 78 was the best he could do.

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Playing the PGA Tour Champions and winning the Insperity Classic in May was harder than it looked. I've had hip surgeries, a broken back and then sciatica. I've had a neck injury and torn ligaments in my hand. These were the normal injuries. Then there was the dumb, self-imposed stuff. I broke my toe in a collision with a case of beer. Almost cut a finger off winching our boat. Slammed my fingers in a car door—the door closed all the way and locked on that one—and another time I broke some ribs messing around on a Segway. I came close to breaking my wrist punching a bag in a workout with an MMA fighter. I'm totally accident-prone. My body was so messed up for so many years, playing the PGA Tour Champions is almost a miracle. Not heroic, but a surprise.

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What have I learned? Think young, but don't be an idiot about it. The Segway injury happened on a dare from my son, Phoenix, who is always goading me to do crazy stuff. Also, if you get an injury, stop everything. The old-school, tough-guy habit of "fighting your way through it" almost always makes the injury worse and leads to bad compensation habits along the way. Finally, remember that surgery is always the last resort.

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To find out what my kids' obsession with video games was about, I decided to try one. I took one of their old hand-held Game Boys and started playing Tetris. You know, where the blocks drop from above and you arrange them to fit before they hit the bottom. I got completely addicted. After untold hours I did something rather rare, which is complete every level. Then I heard about a secret code you could enter that unlocked a level where the blocks fly down in a blur, much too fast for any human to fit them. It was sort of a joke on the player, but it did make you wonder about the possibilities. After I'd played Tetris awhile, the kids said, "What do you think now, Dad?" The best I could come up with was, "Just remember, nobody went to their grave wishing they'd played more video games between ages 15 and 25."

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Golf is like that crazy level of Tetris. In the end, it's unsolvable. When Jim Furyk shot that 58, there were the inevitable mentions about how it could have been even lower. It's almost cruel to make that observation so quickly, but I have no doubt that even Jim has pondered how, with just a little more magic, it could have been a 57. Or 56.

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The first two seasons of the reality show "The Parneviks" were a nice success. It ran only in Sweden, and I dreaded signing on for it because of a phenomenon known as Jantelagen. It refers to The Law of Jante, which basically means you should not aspire to surpass your station in life. If you do, and your efforts go awry, you will be publicly torn apart for having the audacity to try. I was very wary of opening my family to that kind of criticism if it didn't work. But it did. Our formula of bringing in unexpected guests—athletes, politicians and even criminals—added a human element that complemented my crazy family. I was going to discontinue "The Parneviks" so I could concentrate on playing the senior tour, but we just started a third season. At least one episode will take place during a PGA Tour Champions event.

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I hate and fear terrorism more than most people. I was in Manhattan during the 9/11 attacks—we'd partied all night a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center—and the shock of it stayed with me for years. Remember how the 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed? I was on that team. A year later, at The Belfry, I flew in early to get a head start. One night there was an earthquake that shook the hotel. Thinking it might be a terrorist attack, I ran out of the hotel to the 18th green, stark naked. My wife, Mia, kidded me about that. When the attack in Nice, France, happened this past July, I was so upset I took a sleeping pill to help me doze off. It didn't help. I then broke a cardinal rule in life: Do not write emails or go on Twitter after taking an Ambien. I woke up to find I had written an email to a bunch of shareholders of J. Lindeberg, whom I represent, with references to flying cows and biking zebras. That one needed an apology.

‘Do not write emails or go on Twitter after taking an Ambien.’

For a time I ate volcanic sand, seeking to improve my health and performance. I don't know if it did me much good, but the mind-set behind it—trying to get an edge—helped, though not enough for me to keep doing it. I also tried being a fruitarian—all fruits, nothing else—for a while but got so skinny and weak I had to quit that. I've tried strobe glasses, rocks and crystals, scents, having the fillings in my teeth changed, energizing my blood and many other things. The same guy who turned me on to being a fruitarian, claims to know breatharians. These are people who don't eat food at all and subsist on oxygen. I won't be trying that one.

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Go to youtube and enter the name, "Eamonn Darcy." Watch that swing. This guy was a Ryder Cupper, a damn good player. When I came up, there were unconventional swings everywhere. I'm not overly nostalgic for those days, but the swings people adopted to maneuver the ball around the golf course will always be fascinating. I was on a TrackMan recently, measured myself for two days. The first day my swing path was 10 degrees inside to out. The second day it was 12 degrees outside to in. My ball wound up the same distance from the target both days. I also was given drivers with extremely wide ranges of lofts and shaft flexes, and within three swings I adjusted to all of them. There's something to be said for that, though I'm not sure what. Young players today, they're better off learning the conventional way.

©2016 John Loomis Photography, LLC

Parnevik at home in front of a mural of the British comic-book character Modesty Blaise.

During the Open at Troon, commentators were remarking how Henrik Stenson's iron shots seemed to be louder than the other players'. I've always thought sound is one of the best secret indicators of how solidly you're hitting it. You get that sound by "covering" the ball. You want to squash it, make it stick to the center of the clubface. In my prime years, the player who made the best sound with his irons was Paul Azinger. You could blindfold me and put me on the range with 100 tour players, and I would be able to pick out Paul. The sound of his irons—and for that matter, his sand shots, too—were as beautiful as any concert.

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Henrik, Annika Sorenstam and I—every good Swedish player—owe it all to Sven Tumba. He was one of the most remarkable athletes who ever lived and the guy who introduced Sweden to golf. In the 1950s, Sven was the best hockey player on a Swedish team that won three world championships, beating Russia at a time when the Soviets were dominant. One day he decided to take up soccer and showed up to play for the Swedish national team. The other players laughed at him, but he scored three goals in the first half and famously said to the others, "This game we're playing—it is a good game. What do you call it again?" Next, Sven took up water skiing and won the Swedish championship at that. Finally, he took up golf and ended up playing in the World Cup and for the Eisenhower Trophy. That wasn't all. He was an innovator who introduced the first hockey helmet, founded the Scandinavian Masters and built the first golf course in Russia. He was charismatic, sort of a continental Muhammad Ali. If you ask Jack Nicklaus to name the greatest athlete he ever saw, he'll tell you, without hesitation, Sven Tumba.

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When I start missing putts, I blame the putter. A putter doesn't like being yelled at and will try to get revenge, so the only thing to do is put it in the garage and switch to a new one. I never throw the putter away, because putters don't hold grudges. They don't like being put in time-out, and when you give them a second chance they'll do their best to start making putts again.

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When I took up golf at age 10, it was such an obscure sport in Sweden that few people even knew what it was. I remember taking a golf club to show-and-tell at school and the other kids being fascinated because they'd never seen one. The nearest course was an hour from our home. The few courses I grew up on in Sweden weren't much for conditioning. The lies were so consistently terrible, you had to hit down on the ball. Like Lee Trevino, I became a digger, hitting down sharply on the ball with my irons. It was an effective technique, but over the years, as courses got better and players were able to sweep, I became comparatively worse. If you moved players from my era to today, I think a lot of them would struggle. I hate to say it, but that would include Trevino and Seve. Their versatility, which was their strength, would be less effective on courses where lies are perfect and distance is so important. The reverse would be true—players of today would struggle if you moved them back in time.

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There's one exception: Tiger Woods. I always felt his genius was his ability to read lies, which you can't always see very well on TV. The ball could be sitting down, perched up, have a tuft of grass just behind it or any of a hundred variations, and he had an uncanny way of reading the lie and then shaping his swing to produce the best shot. Nobody was remotely close.

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I played with Tiger the first two rounds of the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the one he won by 15 shots. After 36 holes, my caddie, Lance Ten Broeck, and I charted my rounds and Tiger's. We found he had not missed a single putt inside 20 feet. The greens at Pebble are not great, even during a U.S. Open. A 20-footer will wiggle 10 ways before it gets to the hole. A putting robot would blow a fuse trying to make all those putts because the ball will behave differently every time. Tiger had an uncanny, zen-like way of anticipating those wiggles, filtering them through his subconscious and hitting the ball so the wiggles would even out and the putt would drop. I never saw anything that surpassed it until 2008.

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Remember the putt Tiger made to force a playoff against Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open? I had the same putt one hour earlier—same distance, same line. I played two inches of break, and the ball hardly broke. When Tiger's ball left the putter, I saw he'd played a foot of break, which was way too much. But as Tiger stared at the ball, it moved—a lot—and fell in. That was some serious Uri Geller, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Force-like shit. I don't care what any scientist says, I'm convinced that Tiger's mind, not the slope of the green, caused that ball to move.

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When the Tiger scandal happened, I publicly came down very hard on him. Elin had been our nanny and was like a daughter to us. I'm the one who introduced her to Tiger, and when the infidelity came to light, it felt like the worst betrayal ever. But over time, I forgave Tiger. He and Elin are friends, which is nice, and he's a good parent. His mistakes hurt him, too. I see Tiger at the Medalist. We talk and have played nine holes together. By the way, he's been hitting a lot of balls, and he's hitting it great. He's pounding it a mile and flushing everything. On the range, at least, his trajectory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago. Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular.

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One more observation about Tiger. When an athlete signs enormous endorsement deals upon turning pro like he did, one of two things almost always happens. They either get complacent or they feel so much pressure to deliver the goods that they falter within a couple of years. Tiger is the one guy who exceeded expectations commercially and performance-wise. None of his peers were jealous of his contracts. They knew that if anything, he was probably underpaid.

Related: Tiger Woods is "flushing everything" in practice sessions, Jesper Parnevik says

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During the west-coast swing, we'd rent an RV for six weeks. Mia, me, the four kids and two nannies. The drives are long, and boredom and tension would set in. I would pull over, herd everyone out, and together, we'd let out a primal scream as taught to us by Johan Lindeberg. What you do is scream at the top of your lungs and maintain it for a full minute, pouring everything you have into it. It's incredibly cleansing, a total clearing of your cache. When we'd pile back into the RV, we again were the happiest, most relaxed group you've ever seen.

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On the subject of road trips, my Sunday at the Boeing Classic in August looked like it was going to end like all the rest—finish the round, head to the airport and fly to the next event. Warming up on the range, John Daly came by. "Why don't you drive up with me in my motor home? I can use the company." The next tournament was in Calgary, Alberta. Beautiful country, I'd heard, and how many more chances will I get to see it? The best experiences in life occur when you break from the ordinary. So we pile into his RV, and what followed was a spectacular 15 hours. It was supposed to be 10 hours, but we made a series of wrong turns. Wrong turns usually lead to desolate, godforsaken places, but this time, every one presented a more beautiful view than the last. We just shrugged and kept driving, GPS be damned. John might be the best road companion ever. Great conversationalist, always relaxed, great taste in music. Fifteen hours in the car with someone can feel like being stuck in an elevator with someone you don't like. With John, it flew by. I rolled into Calgary feeling great about the world. Finished fifth, one of my better outings of the year.

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We're in the early days of people playing music on the golf course, and I can't say I'm a fan. I don't mind that Rocco Mediate blares the heaviest metal you can imagine on the course whenever he can. I actually like it. What's annoying is people whipping out their phones and trying to one-up each other with their music. The music becomes the thing more than the golf.

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Ove Sellberg was one of the better European players of the 1980s and the first Swede to win on the European Tour. He came from a very troubled background. Sweden has some unsavory aspects, just as anywhere else, and Ove was running with a bad crowd. I wasn't there for that part, but when he took up golf, by all accounts the look in his eye changed. Maybe it was the self-policing aspect or the idea that you keep trying no matter what, but it aroused something in him he never knew he had. When I played in The First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in 2015, I saw a lot of young people with difficult pasts. Over the course of a few days, you could see the look in their eyes changing, as it did with Ove. Of all the games, only golf has the capacity to do that.

‘What have I learned? Think young, but don’t be an idiot about it.’

I've tried to stay youthful. I've tried to avoid being the 50-something in full mid-life crisis, the guy with the Corvette convertible, hair implants and a compulsion to chat up 25-year-old girls at clubs. Fortunately, people are becoming more indifferent to age. I see huge age disparities within groups going on golf trips. I see a lot of 50-year-olds who play 36 holes, dance all the time, hang out with younger people, try slightly crazy stuff and let their attitudes change. You want to be the guy who is completely comfortable in his slightly wrinkled skin, where it's hard to tell by looking how old they are exactly. Age-wise, our cultures are blending together.

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As we age and look in the mirror, we tend to see a 27-year-old looking back. It's human nature to disregard the evidence and believe we're frozen in our primes. When Bernhard Langer said there was an outside chance he could win the Masters at age 58, he meant it. If you've seen Bernhard, who is now 59, play golf these days, you realize it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, you can't escape the truth. When an 85-year-old tells Bernhard, "You're just a baby," the way 85-year-olds tend to do, I'll bet Bernhard mutters to himself, I'm far from being a kid.

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It's inaccurate to look at people like Tiger and attribute their success to joy and passion. I assure you, the motivation is usually much darker than that. It's no fun beating balls in a cold rain, or following a missed three-footer on the last hole by going to the practice green for five hours. The person who pays that price is usually driven by desperation, loneliness, a deep insecurity or a need to prove somebody wrong. In my case, I had a father, Bo Parnevik, who was the most famous comedian in Sweden. At 13, I was about a 26-handicapper. It drew attention, and I hated the embarrassment. My father was wonderful and never pushed me, but just having his name made me practice insanely hard to become successful. It was work, the farthest thing from what the average golfer would call fun. Interestingly, the breakthroughs came at the most unpleasant moments.

‘Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me [Tiger’s] might be spectacular.’

How famous was my dad? In America, the Super Bowl gets something like a 44 share on TV. In Sweden, his weekly variety show, "Party With Parnevik," routinely drew a 75 share. He was a master entertainer. His performances looked effortless. But behind the scenes, his preparation was incredible. At home, he would rehearse every line endlessly. Even "mistakes" were rehearsed, so he could incorporate them into the act to make it look more natural. I was on Jay Leno's show once and rehearsed like crazy. I was told afterward how spontaneous and funny I was, but believe me, I practiced. If you're called upon to give a speech and are worried about stage fright, there's one sure way to do it well, and that's to prepare.

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Mia and I have four great children. I think it's almost unprecedented that three generations of Parneviks—my dad, me and now our daughter, Peg—have succeeded in sports and entertainment. Peg is 21 and an incredible singer. Her song "Ain't No Saint" reached No. 1 on Swedish radio and has been streamed more than 22 million times on Spotify. Her younger sister Penny helped produce and direct one of her music videos. Philippa, 16, and Phoenix, who is 14, have good lives in store for them.

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I thought a golf career was tough, but watching Peg try to make it in the music business has been a revelation. It's not like it was 20 years ago, when a band could release one good album and coast for a while. Most musicians today can't make a living releasing albums at all, because good music is so cheap and available everywhere. They need to perform live. Also, what's hot today is old news tomorrow. Music doesn't have the legs it used to. The good news is, more people can get their music out there. The bad news is, it's much tougher to become a star.

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If you're getting yippy with the putter under pressure, try this trick: Instead of smoothing and slowing down your stroke, make it shorter and quicker than usual. I call it "yipping on purpose," and it works. Just aim the putter at the hole and jab the ball straight in the middle.

‘I call it “yipping on purpose,” and it works.’

The day I resumed skiing after a 20-year layoff, I wondered if I'd remember how to do it. It truly was like riding a bike. Halfway down my first run I thought, Why can't golf be like this? In golf I've taken two days off, and on the third day felt like I was starting over. I've actually had that same feeling playing the back nine after lunch.

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A key reason I keep myself fit is so the end of life will come easier. Healthy people tend to flame out very quickly when the time comes, whereas inactive people tend to get sick early and then linger. I dread the thought of suffering, which is strange seeing how I play a game in which suffering is part of the territory.

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At the Honda Classic one year, I fatted my second shot on the par-4 second hole into a muddy area left of the green. My ball was only half embedded, so I decided to take a chance. I closed my eyes and swung as hard as I could, hitting down sharply. When I looked up, I saw my ball airmailing the green by 60 yards, out-of-bounds. A full five seconds later—I had time to start bitching—whoom—a second ball drops out of the sky and lands right next to the hole. Unbelievably, the ball I fatted had come to rest directly on top of another ball, which was buried even more deeply. My swing had dislodged the buried ball, which flew over the green. Meanwhile, my ball was sent almost straight up in the air. It was probably the most bizarre par in the history of golf. If you play this game long enough, you'll see it all.

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