La Quinta, Calif. –– Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Robert Karlsson.
Three different personalities, three different golf swings, one common malady.
All three suffered from the full-swing yips. They reached a point in their professional careers where they couldn’t start the swing. They couldn’t pull the trigger. The harder they tried, the worse it got. They were stuck in the address position. No amount of waggling, regripping or looking at the target could set them in motion.
The cases of Garcia and Na have been well-documented, but Karlsson’s problem, which surfaced in the summer of 2012, went largely unnoticed.
At the Open Championship in July, Karlsson played a practice round early in the week and promptly withdrew from the tournament.
“I stood on the 1st tee,” he recalled, “and it took me a minute to get it away. I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be here on Thursday.’ That’s when I made the decision that I had to do something about it.”
Four months later, his comeback is startling. Here at PGA West, in a bid to regain fully exempt status on the PGA Tour, he shot a 6-under-par 66 Wednesday in the first round of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, known as the Q-School. He made 12 pars and 6 birdies. It looked easy.
“Pretty good,” he said as he walked off the Nicklaus Tournament Course. “There are so many rounds here (six), it’s important to go one round at a time, put it behind you and just keep going.”
To get here, Karlsson had to endure the second stage of Q-School. He was medalist at Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville, Fla., shooting rounds of 68-67-68-67.
“I’ve had the whole spectrum this year,” Karlsson said with a laugh, “everything from Augusta (the Masters) to stage 2. It’s quite a humbling experience, stage 2.”
Karlsson ended up 160th on the 2012 PGA Tour money list. He won $393,340, which placed him more than $250,000 out of the top 125. In 17 events, he had just two top 25 finishes with nothing better than a 17th place tie.
He had an excuse. He was a captive of the full-swing yips.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I looked at why things happen. I talked with Sergio. I talked with two different psychologists. I worked with my coach (Annchristine Lundstrom). I worked on my own.
“I made a decision to change my routine. This was right after the British Open. I started with chip shots off the tee. It didn’t matter if I missed the ball. I worked hard on tempo and rhythm.”
His first tournament back was the PGA Championship, where he shot 152 to miss the cut. The next week, at the Wyndham Championship, he missed the cut again, but shot 144.
“The second round (of the Wyndham) was the first time I played where I was very fluid,” he said. “When I started to put together some scores and made the cut in Italy (the BMW Italian Open, where he shot 70-70-68-68), I said to myself, ‘Yes, I can do this again.’ ”
Karlsson, who was a Swedish golf prodigy as a teenager, now lives outside of Charlotte, N.C., and is intent on playing the PGA Tour. He has amassed 11 international victories in his professional career, although all have come outside the United States.
Those who watch Karlsson in the Q-School will see a tall golfer (6-foot-5) who plays decisively and without a trace of the gremlins that brought down the Swede along with Garcia and Na.
All three have found their way out of this golf purgatory, although the memories of the full-swing yips are a constant motivator.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “Not to take golf for granted, that’s for sure. Now it seems like a bonus that I can play. I am very happy right now.”