With over 25 years on the European Tour and a life-long love for the game, Robert Karlsson knows his golf. David Singh catches up with the man at the 2018 BMW Championship…
Robert Karlsson hails from Sweden, where his father was a greenskeeper at the local golf club, thus exposing Karlsson junior to golf from an early age. Turning professional in 1989, Karlsson qualified for membership of the European Tour in 1990. One of the highlights of his career so far came in 2008 when he won the European Order of Merit, he has also finished in the top 20 seven times throughout his career. In addition, Karlsson has won another 11 events on tour. We meet up with the Swedish legend.
So Robert, you travel the world, stuck on a plane for hours on end, what do you do to relax and keep yourself sane?
“I listen to books – any that I think that I can learn from. I like books that are going to help me evolve as a person and also as a player.”
When you arrive at a place, are you a stay-in-the-hotel person or do you go out to experience the location and enjoy the culture?
“I try to experience something from whatever location I find myself in. I don’t want to finish touring one day and realise that I have not seen anything from all the places that I have been lucky enough to visit. With trips to cities like Paris and Madrid, for example, I try to absorb a bit of the culture, but even over 30 years of touring, you find that you still have few chances.”
What’s the most memorable place that you have been to?
“Japan, without a doubt. It is a land of such contradictions. You can smoke indoors and in hotel rooms, but not on the golf course! Everything that you think is correct in the Western world has got to be questioned in Japan. When I am there I am always thinking, what is right and what is wrong, or why do they do this or that? But you have to accept the way that things are there; it’s an amazing country.”
Which is your favourite golf course?
“Augusta, for sure, it’s the atmosphere of the place. When you drive up Magnolia Lane, just everything you see around you is first-class. As for the golf course, it is constantly testing everything that you think and do. And I mean everything; from strategy to the quality of your shots to your short game… absolutely everything. There is not one shot that is easy, and even if it does seem easy, there are going to be repercussions if you are not thinking ahead, where the pin is and so forth. Hitting the fairway is not the problem, it’s positioning yourself so that your next shot will be OK, so that you are not standing there thinking, maybe I should have thought about that last shot a little more as the next has suddenly become very complicated.”
What is it about the 12th hole at Augusta?
“It’s tricky. You have a small green, there’s the water, the bunkers and then the rhododendron bushes behind, so lots could go wrong if you are not careful. It’s also tricky with the wind, and obviously a hole like that will have a special atmosphere as everyone knows all this.”
When you see Augusta on TV it seems so flat, but apparently that is not the case?
“No, when you stand on the fairway at the 18th, for example, it’s so much uphill you just cannot imagine.”
What is your schedule nowadays? You have kids, how does that affect your golf?
“It’s a little easier these days as the kids are 16 and 14, but I try to get time off around the school holidays. I play mainly in Europe so living in the US does mean more travelling. I’m playing about 24 tournaments a year, which is roughly what I have always done.”
It’s said that you are the most analytical golfer. Do you agree?
“Well, I do like to understand why something is happening or not happening, but I also think that there are players who are more analytical than me. I guess Thomas Bjorn has heard this as he has put me on statistics for the Ryder Cup.”
What’s your favourite tournament? Is it the Ryder Cup?
“You know, we golfers are individuals. There is only one time that we come together and play for someone else instead of ourselves, so it’s definitely a very different experience, with different pressures and a different type of nervousness. When I played my first Ryder Cup in 2008, the day before the start, Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke took me to one side and told me that what I was going to experience would by completely different to other competitions. They told me I’d be more nervous than ever before. I didn’t understand what they were talking about as I thought it was just another competition. But when I stood there on the first tee, I understood exactly what they meant. It’s just so different. But it’s a great experience, it’s more liberating in some ways, but then you also feel the pressure of playing as a team, probably more what a footballer would feel.
The biggest difference is the fact that the spectators are either totally for you or totally against you, there is no in-between. A large proportion of the spectators want you to screw up. You may have noticed that it has become way more hostile over the last couple of events, hopefully this will change.”
I see that you have your Maui Jim sunglasses; do you wear them for just golf or also for everyday use?
“Definitely both, and I have three or four pairs with different lenses. In 2009, I was out for four months with a serious eye condition so it’s very important to look after my eyes. My Maui Jim’s are very important for me, my golf and my eyes in general.”