EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France -- Tournament golf would be a lot more interesting if Helen Alfredsson contended every week. While the mercurial Swede is not exactly everyone's cup of tea, she is funny, clever and speaks her mind. She can also, at age 43, strike the golf ball with the best of them, as she proved last month at the U.S. Women's Open, and again Friday at the Evian Masters where she shot a course-record 63.
"I've loved this place since the the first time I was here in 1994," Alfredsson said after making nine birdies, six of which came on putts inside five feet and none of which were longer than 12 feet. Alfie won that '94 Evian Masters and took home the trophy here again in 1998. Injury and age have conspired to keep her out of the winner's circle since the 2003 Longs Drugs Challenge.
But with a variety of ailments apparently behind her, Alfie has found her game again. She was atop the leader board in the Women's Open at Interlachen last month until her putting stroke abandoned her in the final round. What has never abandoned Alfie is her sense of humor, which can be both gentle and brutal. You don't want to be on the receiving end of an Alfredsson barb.
When a journalist waited for a microphone before he asked a question she bellowed, "Do you think I'm deaf or something?" And when asked about going for the par-5 18th hole in two she made chicken noises and said, "I didn't want to hear that from my playing partners."
Asked about how her nerves will hold up on the weekend, she said: "My husband [Kent Nilsson, who played on a Stanley Cup-winning Edmonton Oilers team] says the nerves get worse the older you get, and I'm going the other direction," waving her hand behind her.
The 63 was the second for Alfredsson in an LPGA event. The first was in the 1994 U.S. Women's Open at Indianwood CC in Michigan. It was a 63 she described Friday as "bittersweet." What she didn't say is that is preceded one of the most heartbreaking meltdowns in major championship play.
Alfie was leading the Open by seven strokes through 44 holes. On the 45th hole she three-putted from 3 feet and proceeded to play the next 18 holes in 85 strokes. But that was 14 years ago. And as Alfie said when asked if she let her mind skip ahead when she was making birdies Friday: "I'm 43. Don't you think I've learned anything in these years?"
One thing she hasn't lost is her sense of humor, and that's a good thing.
-- Ron Sirak