Robert Karlsson’s game trending in the right direction

With the help of Dr. Gio Valiante, Robert Karlsson has broken out of a 2 year slump and has now made 9 of his last 11 cuts.


By Beth Ann NicholsJuly 17, 2014 8:18 a.m.
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PHOTOS: 2014 British Open, Thursday

HOYLAKE, England – Robert Karlsson’s alarm clock went off at 4:00 a.m. His wife, Ebba, cooked his breakfast and sent him off to Royal Liverpool for a 6:30 a.m. tee time. Much to Karlsson’s surprise, the first-tee grandstands were packed.

“I would not have been there,” Karlsson said, laughing.

But Karlsson, a 6-foot-5-inch Swede and 11-time European Tour winner, won’t be complaining about a bad draw at the Open Championship any time soon. It was only two years ago that the affable Karlsson withdrew on the eve of this championship with a most horrid condition: the driver yips.

“A lot of people thought it was health problems in 2012,” Karlsson said. “It was health problems but more in the brain, I think.”

On Thursday at Hoylake, Karlsson walked off the 18th green with a 3-under 69 and the early lead. It’s a far cry from the debacle at Royal Lytham that forced some serious soul-searching. When Karlsson decided that he wanted to keep playing the game he loves (“What else am I going to do?”), he set out trying to determine what he did so well in 2008 when he won twice and topped the European Tour Order of Merit.

When asked how close he came to quitting, Karlsson joked that every pro golfer thinks of quitting about twice a year. The first order of business for this son a greenskeeper was to get back to the same feeling on the range.

“I felt like it was shorter and a lot more hooky,” he said. “I don’t really hit it hooky when I’m playing good.”

Karlsson, who works with mental coach Gio Valiante, learned to be patient with himself. He took pride in the small steps, refusing to compare himself with his peers leading the money race or playing in the Ryder Cup. He looked to the comeback careers of Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey for inspiration.

“At the moment, I’m pretty happy to be 140th in the world,” Karlsson said. “Two weeks ago, I was 199th.”

He called frustration “a complete waste of time.”

The light came when Karlsson realized how much had changed in his golf swing and routine since 2008. A path was laid out in front of him, and he dedicated himself to the work.

Karlsson spoke with great conviction when he dismissed the idea of the yips returning.

“I’m not afraid of that at all because it’s something I created myself,” he said.

Once Karlsson realized the pattern he created was like any other pattern in that it could be undone, he thought back to what started it all, what it felt like right before the yips had paralyzed his golf game.

“You start to stand too long over the ball, thinking too much,” he said. “And all of a sudden I’ve been there for a minute, and then it just went from bad to worse.”

Karlsson, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., has had only four starts on the PGA Tour this season. He’s primarily teeing it up on the European Tour, where he finished fourth in France to qualify for the Open and tied for eighth at the Aberdeen Scottish Open the week coming into Hoylake. Karlsson said that unless he’s ranked in the top 50 in the world, he’s likely to continue playing in Europe.

“It’s great to play both tours or possibly play the four qualifying events in September, but at the moment I don’t think I’ll do it,” he said. “Because if I play well, I’m going to put myself in a really difficult position where I have to play 15 in America and 13 here, and I can’t choose the 15 in America.”

Whatever the case, he’s still on the small-step plan. There was a time in his career when Karlsson played with too much pressure at the Open and missed eight consecutive cuts. In 2006, the last time the Open was played at Hoylake, he tied for 35th and turned a corner in the links game.

Perhaps the 143rd Open Championship will serve as another such steppingstone.


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