You want to understand Jesper Parnevik? It's easier to figure out the upside of debentures or why a yellow sun makes Superman strong. Parnevik, Sweden's famously eccentric golfer, is not likely to be explained anytime soon. He is known to have cleansed his body by eating volcanic dust and bowls of vitamins. He almost won the British Open in 1994 but forgot to look at the leader board on the final hole and made a strategic gaffe that cost him the tournament. I mean, just look at him. The stovepipe-legged slacks, the hat with the turned-up bill, the tee tucked behind the right ear. Surely, this man is either a housepainter or the son of the most famous comedian in Sweden. Actually, the latter is correct.
On Sunday at Forest Oaks Country Club, before knocking in his final putt in the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, Parnevik took a moment to slip a big ol' stogie between his teeth and have his caddie light it, right there on the green. Then he tapped in the anticlimactic gimme that made him the champion of a tournament he hadn't even planned to enter.
So ended another routine week, one that began with Parnevik using a new putter, a set of irons he had first laid eyes on the night before the opening round and a caddie who hadn't put strap to shoulder in almost 30 years. If that wasn't enough to make him a sure thing, there was also this: Parnevik hadn't cracked the top 10 all year; the week before, at the MCI Classic, he had been disqualified after being ratted out by his caddie; and his wife was "ready to pop," as he delicately informed a national television audience when asked about the ETA of the couple's third child.
This is the kind of chaos in which Parnevik thrives. In fact, he was doing so well last week that at one point it looked as if he would smash every PGA Tour scoring record. After opening with rounds of 65 and 63, he was 23 under par through 51 holes and laughing as his birdie putts kept diving out of sight. The only predictable thing about Parnevik is that it's impossible to predict what will happen next, so no one was terribly surprised when he bogeyed two of the final three holes last Saturday, then limped around the final 18 like Hansel and Gretel lost in the forest. Despite hitting only 10 of 28 fairways on the weekend, a hot putter helped him hang on to finish at 23 under, two strokes ahead of Jim Furyk. "Jesper's a streaky player, either hot or cold," says Per-Ulrik Johansson, a friend of Parnevik's who, after receiving an invitation to play in Greensboro, persuaded Jesper to join him. "When he's hot, he's really good."
Parnevik's semirunaway at Greensboro was not uncharted territory. In 1993 he led the Scottish Open by seven shots after three rounds, birdied the first two holes on the final day and won by five strokes. He also won the '95 Scandinavian Masters and the '96 Troph�e Lanc�me by five, both times topping Colin Montgomerie. Last year Parnevik twice won by three shots, one of those victories coming at the Phoenix Open, in which he birdied three of the final five holes. "You can't believe how much fun it is to play golf when you feel like you can birdie every hole," Parnevik said after Saturday's 67. "It doesn't matter what the hole looks like, and it doesn't matter if you're in the rough. You feel you can make birdie. You don't get that feeling too often. I couldn't believe the putts. You try to two-putt, and boom, they go in."
What caused this remarkable sensation? Parnevik was asked. "That's the whole thing about golf," he said, shaking his head. "You can't figure it out."
Parnevik was asked the same question on Sunday after he had won, and he tried to give credit to a double dose of the vitamins he promotes. Nice try, but no sale. Two more likely reasons for his success were the new irons and his caddie-for-a-week, former Tour player Lance Ten Broeck.
Let's start with the irons. Grouped with Greg Norman for the first two rounds of the Masters, Parnevik noticed that he was two clubs longer than the Shark. When they were the same distance from the green, Norman would hit a six-iron and Parnevik would hit an eight. That wasn't right. Parnevik tried irons with different shafts the following week, at Hilton Head, but didn't like them. On Wednesday, April 21, at Greensboro he took some new iron heads, put in shafts, ground the heads and had the loft on the clubs weakened. The work wasn't done until 6:30 p.m. The next day the hard-swinging Swede was hitting higher, shorter shots and had—aha!—better distance control. "With his old set he could hit a wedge 155 yards if he wanted to," Ten Broeck says. Parnevik also noticed that the grooves on his sand wedge were badly worn, which explained why some of his chip shots didn't check up. Changing clubs at the 11th hour is risky, but it made a difference.
The hiring of Ten Broeck, who has played the Tour on and off since 1980 and is currently banging around the Florida mini-tours, may have been inspired. Was it coincidence that Parnevik, who had ranked 66th in the Tour's putting statistics before Greensboro, had the putting week of his life? "I think if any Tour player was on your bag, he'd be the best caddie out here," says Steve Elkington, who finished 44th. "Lance Ten Broeck played the Tour for 15 years. That's a pretty good second read on every putt. And I'm sure Jesper was a little ticked off and embarrassed about last week."
Elkington was referring to the way Parnevik had parted company with his previous caddie, Loren Duncan. Duncan confirmed for a Tour official that, yes, Parnevik had used his glove to brush the line of his putt on the 17th green during the second round of the MCI. That violation of the rules led to Parnevik's disqualification, and it was widely reported that he had fired Duncan on the spot. Last week Parnevik insisted that the timing of the sacking was purely coincidental, that they had already planned to split and he hadn't fired Duncan for telling the truth.