Swede ups Liberty’s postseason bid

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Robert Karlsson hears about Robert Karlsson all the time. That’s what happens when you’re tall, Swedish and can pound a golf ball.

In fact, when the 20-year-old Karlsson arrived at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in January, a teammate’s dad was convinced he was the son of Robert Karlsson, the PGA Tour player.

“I’ve heard a lot about that,” Karlsson said. “But I don’t mind.”

For the record, there’s no connection between the Karlssons. They’re not related and have never met. Even their swings look nothing alike. As Liberty coach Jeff Thomas says about his freshman, “Robert’s swing isn’t TV-quality all the time.”

What has been made for prime time, however, are Karlsson’s results.

In his first college event, Karlsson finished third, ahead of N.C. State standout Matt Hill, who has won four times this year. In his third event, Karlsson won the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate, and then followed two weeks later with a victory at the First Market Bank Intercollegiate.

Karlsson has climbed as high as No. 39 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings this spring. As the Flames prepare for the Big South Conference Championship on April 20-22 at The Patriot Golf Club in Ninety-Six, S.C., Karlsson boasts a stout 427-35-5 head-to-head record.

Pretty impressive stuff, considering Karlsson still is adjusting to a whirlwind first few months in America.

“The first week (in the U.S.), I played really bad golf,” Karlsson said. “I was nervous if I made the right decision or not.”

Initially, Karlsson had no intentions on playing college golf. He was set to turn pro early in 2009 after qualifying last fall for the Swedish professional tour. But plans changed when good friend Tobias Pettersson, who grew up playing golf with Karlsson at their home club in Kalmar, Sweden, and joined Liberty in the fall as a freshman, suggested Thomas call Karlsson to see whether he’d be interested in joining the Flames.

“I told coach that if you wanted a really good player that was dedicated to golf, Robert was a good choice,” Pettersson said.

Karlsson accepted Thomas’ offer to come to the Blue Ridge Mountains school, knowing he’d be in the starting lineup. And though Thomas had researched Karlsson’s junior and amateur results in Sweden, he said signing him was something of a leap of faith, considering he had never seen Karlsson play.

“It was scary for us,” Thomas said. “We had more than a lot of scholarship wrapped up in him.”

Thomas’ knees were knocking during the first weeks in January when Karlsson started practicing with the team. His scores were inching closer to 80 than to 70. But once he turned Karlsson loose at the team’s first spring event at Rice University, any apprehension was eased.

“To get Robert going, he needs tournaments,” Pettersson said. “He gets extra excited and puts it in another gear.”

During the fall, the Flames finished no better than sixth. Since Karlsson’s arrival, they’ve posted a victory and two runners-up, and have jumped more than 50 spots in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, to No. 116. Still, the team will need to win the Big South next to keep the season going. Liberty last qualified for a regional in 2006. No Flames individual player has advanced.

“Time has flown by,” Karlsson says about his first semester at Liberty, and admittedly, his tank is starting to near empty. The team has played six events since February. At the UMB Bank Mizzou Tiger Intercollegiate earlier this week, Karlsson didn’t crack the top 25 and finished at 10-over 226, his worst showing of the year. It’s been a learning experience adapting to American culture, traveling across the country to play golf and keeping up with school work. Still, Karlsson plans to return to Liberty next fall and keep his pro aspirations shelved for at least another year. For now, the conference tournament and a potential at-large bid to regionals await.

“I really hate losing,” Karlsson said.

• • •

MASTERS MOMENT: Furman men’s coach Todd Satterfield had one objective last week while working as a rules official at the Masters.

“My whole goal is to not end up on TV,” Satterfield said, laughing. “That would mean something had gone seriously wrong.”

Mission accomplished.

Satterfield, the NCAA’s representative on the USGA Rules of Golf Committee, completed his second year as a rules official at Augusta with flying colors. In fact, he had a front-row seat to some spectacular golf. Over four rounds, Satterfield was stationed at Nos. 11, 10, 17 and 6, and had a clubhouse pass to share with his wife, Lori Beth, who also made the trip.

Satterfield’s most memorable brush with a rules issue came in the first round while he was working at the 11th hole. Tiger Woods had hit his tee ball into the right trees. While sizing up his approach shot from the pine straw, Satterfield watched intently as Woods carefully moved some lose impediments out of the way.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my gosh; this ball better not move,’ ” Satterfield said. “I could just see it moving and having to tell Tiger he had a one-stroke penalty. My heart was beating a little fast.”

Thankfully, no rules were breached.

Satterfield hopes to work at the Masters for at least two more years before his position with the USGA is up.

• • •

Five questions with UC Davis senior Nate Pistacchio and sophomore Chelsea Stelzmiller

1) What’s the best part of living in the Sacramento area and near San Francisco?

Pistacchio: “We have access to a lot of nice courses in the area. One course we play a lot is Winchester. We also get out to Granite Bay and Silverado near Napa. They’re all pretty good condition and challenging.”

Stelzmiller: “Although Davis seems out in the middle of nowhere, it’s very convenient for good places to go. We always go shopping in San Francisco, and it’s really not that far. Plus, it’s close to home for me, too.”

2) What’s your favorite course you’ve played since being at school?

Pistacchio: “The Norman Course at PGA West. I like the greens. They’re really fast and really smooth. Plus, it helps that I won there (at the Prestige in October). That makes it a little more special.”

Stelzmiller: “We got to play Cypress Point a couple weeks ago. It was a very unforgettable experience. I’m so grateful we got to play there. It was amazing, unbelievable. The course is different - lots of par 5s. It was a fun course to play.”

3) What’s the best shot you’ve hit this season?

Pistacchio: “At Oregon’s tournament this spring, it was a long par 3 – about 215 yards – I hit a hybrid to about 6 or 7 feet. The wind was left-to-right, and the pin was tucked behind a bunker. I started the ball a couple feet left of the pin, and it just held straight. It almost went in – just landed short and rolled just by the hole. In the fall at the Prestige (at PGA West), on the 17th green I was one off the lead. I had a 25-footer, downhill that broke 4 feet right. I made that to tie the lead.”

Stelzmiller: “At UC Irvine, No. 17, it’s an extreme downhill par 3. It’s 165 yards, but it plays 130. Choosing the right club is key, especially with the wind. On the second day, I stuck it to 6 inches.”

4) What’s your favorite class this quarter?

Pistacchio: “I’m not taking any classes, actually. I’m all done. I finished in March. I’ve been practicing a lot to get ready for the postseason.”

Stelzmiller: “I’m taking two fun classes, actually. My environmental science and policy class is fun. But I’m also taking a swimming class. It’s for advanced swimmers. It’s a good workout. It’s not education-related, but it’s a fun class.”

5) What’s been your best non-golf highlight since being at school?

Pistacchio: “I’m pretty happy with my first quarter here. Academically, my freshman year was really good. I red-shirted that year. My goal was to get a good GPA, and I got a 3.4 or 3.5. I was happy with that.”

Stelzmiller: “I went to Belize last summer and that was pretty amazing and fun. It was a vacation with my family. We stayed for 10 days. I haven’t had a vacation where I didn’t bring my golf clubs in a long time.”

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