- Bill Fields
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If he chucked the long putter, Carl Pettersson could be a professional golfer from 1977, instead of someone who was born then. His swing relies more on rhythm and tempo than perfect positions espoused on somebody's instructional DVD, and his waistline reflects a man who enjoys taking the scenic route through a buffet line. While most of his 20-something peers on the PGA Tour have attendants for their mind, body and backswing, Pettersson prefers to go it alone. "He's a non-entourage guy," said 48-year-old Joey Sindelar, a seven-time winner who sees a kindred spirit in his younger friend. "He's not going to go to the range with six people in tow to get the job done."
Pettersson hasn't had any formal instruction in more than a decade, a self-reliance that is as rare on today's tour as a shag bag, particularly among golfers of his generation. "Last lesson I had would have been in 1993 when I was playing some county golf in England," he said during a conversation last month at his Raleigh, N.C., home. "Sometimes I'll ask my caddie [Tommy Anderson] or a friend on tour, but I like to figure it out by myself. That way I know what's going on."
In 2005 Pettersson consulted for less than two weeks with mental-performance coach Jim Fannin, who is well-known for his work with Luke Donald and baseball star Alex Rodriguez. "We thought that was a bit odd for Carl," said Pettersson's father, Lars. "He is really straightforward, and he is not really into that type of thing." His son presently came to the same conclusion. "After about a week and a half, I [realized] I'm just a one-man show," Carl explains. "It felt weird. I'm not used to calling somebody every night. I'm used to being on my own and doing it my way."
The solo act has worked. Since finishing 74th on the money list during his rookie season on the PGA Tour in 2003, Pettersson has been like a local train picking up steam with every stop. He improved to 51st in 2004 and to 31st in 2005, when he claimed his first American title, the Chrysler Championship. This past season Pettersson was 18th on the money list and won the Memorial Tournament -- making him one of only seven active players younger than 30 with more than one PGA Tour victory -- while establishing himself as a potential significant other in the Tiger Woods era as the FedEx Cup dawns.
"I feel like I'm going to do it my way until I'm not improving anymore," Pettersson said. "I've improved every year. I don't ever feel tempted to get coaching because I think it would just mess me up. I play my best when I don't even think about it. I'm a pretty simple guy, really."
A laid-back sort who likes nothing better than spending a week at his second home on the North Carolina coast doing nothing, Pettersson's game is less about the means than the end. Few of his 2006 statistics were dazzling. He ranked 47th in scoring average (70.65) but was 132nd in driving accuracy and 175th in greens in regulation. However, he was fifth on tour in putting from five to 10 feet, and the deeper he played into a tournament, the better he putted. Pettersson was 14th in final-round putts with 28.05 per round. "He is very competitive, and he is definitely not afraid of pressure, unless it is an 8-ball in the corner pocket to beat me on the pool table," said South African Tim Clark, a close friend of Pettersson's for a decade.
Life in the age of Woods can deflate a pro's ego even as it inflates his bank balance (Pettersson already has career earnings of more than $7 million), but the 29-year-old is realistic about the challenge and the opportunity. "I don't think I could ever be at Tiger's level, week in and week out," Pettersson said. "Maybe once in a while -- if I play my very, very best -- I can maybe hang with him for a tournament. I'd like to say I could win all those tournaments [54 victories, including 12 majors] like he has, but realistically, I don't think I could. I'm just happy he's come along at the same time I have. It's made our sport bigger. It has helped us."
It is Pettersson's tendency to see things sunny-side up, preferably with a side of grits. Born in the Swedish port city of Gothenburg, Pettersson moved to Stratford-on-Avon in England when he was 10 and to North Carolina at 15 -- relocations resulting from his father's job as a senior executive with Volvo Trucks. "I almost feel like I have lived three lives," said Pettersson, the younger of two boys (older brother Oscar is 32). "One in Sweden, one in England and one in America. I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's a great experience being part of different cultures."
Pettersson has described himself as a "Swedish redneck," and there is no doubt pork barbecue suits him a lot better than pickled herring. "I think he's probably about as Americanized as you can get, and he might even be Southernized," said Richard Sykes, the men's golf coach at North Carolina State, where Carl played after two successful seasons at Central Alabama Community College. "It always feels strange going back to Sweden. It doesn't feel like I'm coming home," admits Pettersson, who returned there in early November for the funeral of his grandfather, Åke. "Landing at RDU [Raleigh-Durham International Airport] is coming home for me."
Although Pettersson enjoyed living in Great Britain because of its cricket and soccer, it was there -- as a preteen he watched his father, a low-handicap golfer, play in a pro-am at Turnberry -- that he was truly bitten by the golf bug. His affection for America began not long after he settled in for his junior year at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, N.C. The family's home was situated between the first and 18th holes at Starmount Forest CC, a site of the Greater Greensboro Open from 1938-60. "When we decided to go to the States, he thought it would spoil his golf," Lars said. "But we were very fortunate. We lived right on the golf course. After school, he could go out there and chip and putt."
Pettersson was the 4-A state high school medalist as a senior, but a mediocre academic record ("I didn't concentrate much on [my classes], which, looking back, was stupid," Carl said) forced him to go to a junior college. During his freshman year (1997), Pettersson won the National Junior College Athletic Association individual championship and led Central Alabama to team honors. His keep-it-simple approach to golf was a perfect fit for Sykes. "I don't think I ever told him anything about golf other than pace," Sykes said. "He'd work on [his swing] by himself. I was smart enough not to touch it. Some things you don't mess with."
"He has always been a very soft-natured person and through all the turmoil of college still found time to bring up a black Lab named Stinky. Stinky was a little bit unruly -- and managed to eat my cell phone once, but Carl loved that dog."
-- Tim Clark
In many ways, Pettersson was a bigger, stronger version of the similarly nontechnical Clark, who had completed his N.C. State career but shared a two-bedroom Raleigh duplex with Pettersson and fellow Wolfpack golfer Marc Turnesa when he was home from the Nationwide Tour. The interior decorating was basic student. "Tim had won a Canadian Tour event, and the prize was a 65-inch TV," recalls Pettersson. "All we had was some crap furniture and this big-ass TV." Clark and Turnesa were struck by their roommate's genuine personality and generosity. "He would go out of his way to help me in the early days," said Clark, who paid to sleep on the couch on his respites from the road but often was given Pettersson's mattress instead. "He has always been a very soft-natured person and through all the turmoil of college still found time to bring up a black Lab named Stinky. Stinky was a little bit unruly -- and managed to eat my cell phone once, but Carl loved that dog."
Pettersson's North Carolina ties were solidified when he met fellow N.C. State student DeAnna Ellis, who grew up in the small city of Dunn, N.C., in Harnett County, in late 2000. "Any girl likes a guy who has a little bit of a foreign accent," DeAnna said of their first meeting. "At that time it seemed to be a little bit more British than anything else. I was just enthralled by that." After dating for two years while Carl played the European PGA Tour -- his first pro victory came in a playoff at the rain-shortened 2002 Algarve Open in Portugal -- the couple married in 2003 and have a 2-year-old daughter, Carlie. A chocolate lab named Bella and an ample supply of humor complete the household.
"Not unless they come out with a plus line for the full-figured male," DeAnna interjects when the topic is the possibility of her husband ever wearing the trimly tailored clothing of Swedish designer Johan Lindeberg. Pettersson is listed as carrying 195 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. He is by no means John Daly-large, but neither will his waistline be mistaken for Charles Howell III's. His "Man Cave," an expansive basement with a golf motif, pool table and 110-inch home theater (a splurge after winning the Memorial), opens to a generous Jenn-Air grill, where Pettersson likes to preside over steaks. Let the calorie count show, however, that during a recent lunch at a casual restaurant not far from his home, Pettersson pushed aside one-half of the bun and ate the rest of his cheeseburger with a fork. Take that, Camilo Villegas.
"Don't let his physique fool you," Clark said. "He is a great sportsman and would be good at whatever sport he concentrated on. And for that reason, he is a very natural golfer." With his stocky physique, blond hair and upright swing, Pettersson strikes a vague resemblance to the Jack Nicklaus of yesteryear or the Colin Montgomerie of today. Pettersson still favors a draw, but it is not the sweeping hook he used to hit. "He would start it so far to the right you'd think he'd lost his ball, and next thing you know it would just curve right back in there," Sykes recalls.
The older Pettersson got, the less he fit the stereotype of a draw-between-the-lines Swede. "Most Swedes are kind of methodical, take their time, analyze stuff," Pettersson said. "I don't like to analyze anything. When I make a decision, I like to get on with it."
One decision Pettersson regrets, however, is his failure to join the European PGA Tour prior to the 2005 season, which kept him from earning a spot on the 2006 European Ryder Cup team. "I should have known the rules," he said. "I thought I could rejoin in the middle of the year, and they said you can only rejoin between seasons." As a result, the bounty of points for winning the Chrysler Championship and other high finishes in late 2005 went for naught. Handicapped by the late start, Pettersson finished ninth on the European World Points list, with the top five qualifying to play at the K Club. He had the bittersweet experience of watching the matches on television.
"He eats, breathes and sleeps golf," DeAnna said. "He never gets sick of watching The Golf Channel, never gets sick of reading golf magazines. The '86 Masters is still the best program on TV [to him]. It's his life. As much as we love having the offseason, by Christmas he's chomping at the bit to get back out there."
And why not? "I'm living the American dream as a foreigner moving to America and chasing my dream playing golf," Carl said. "This country, if you really want something bad enough, you can chase it."
He didn't need a coach to help him figure that out either.
Bill Fields is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.
Want a "new" face to follow in 2007? Bill Fields writes that throwback Carl Pettersson just might be your man.