Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Karlsson thrives in survival of fittest

Robert Karlsson and his young family live in Monaco

Henrik Stenson couldn’t resist when a local journalist at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in China last week enquired how a country as cold as Sweden and covered by snow for much of the year has produced so many world class golfers.

"First of all," Stenson responded. "being chased by polar bears for six months of the year keeps us in great shape."

When the laughter subsided, he added: "When I grew up, it wasn’t really a problem having a shorter season. It made us more ready to come out and play when the good weather came. We could also practice indoors and go away to training camps, so climate wasn’t a big issue for us."

The conversation then took an interesting twist when Stenson’s World Cup-winning teammate Robert Karlsson said: "When I was growing up, they played all year round in England but they didn’t do much else, so they weren’t in as good (physical) shape.

"So having a short playing season could be an advantage if you use it properly," added World No 6 Karlsson, who at age 39 this year became his country’s first-ever winner of Europe’s Order of Merit.

"Yeah," quipped Stenson. "They don’t have any polar bears in England."

Yet the days are long gone when a large, ferocious predator might be required to persuade any self-respecting golfer to forsake the comfort of an armchair and take to his heels.

For example, Padraig Harrington’s annual winter break officially began after the Singapore Open a fortnight ago but his year’s work is far from done ... last weekend, he headed for the Titleist Performance Institute in Carlsbad, Southern California, to perfect his bio-mechanics and hone his fitness programme.

And when the Harrington clan decamps to South Africa’s Sun City for the Festive Season, our Triple Major Champion will seize with relish the opportunity to do altitude training and warm-weather practice.

Though Graeme McDowell, a young guy who likes to party, had a week off in Phuket, Thailand, after the Hong Kong Open, the Portrush native spent more time in the gym than on the beach, doing three daily sessions with his fitness trainer.

Is it coincidence that Lee Westwood got within one stroke of the playoff at last June’s US Open, his closest at the Majors, after engaging in a lengthy fitness push which has sliced four inches off his waistline in the past two years.

Today’s golfer needs to be fit not just to play but to survive the punishing lifestyle on Tour.

In the course of a season, the average European Tour member will walk 900 miles of fairway; cross 60 time zones and spend up to 700 hours practicing his swing.

Golf’s fitness revolution predates even the greatest predator of them all, Tiger, though he has played a key role in altering the world’s perception of the ancient game.

These days, Karlsson and his young family live in sun-splashed Monaco but, unquestionably, the foundations he laid and the work ethic he developed as a kid in Sweden helped establish him, in the estimation of Dr Dale Richardson, as one of the most finely-honed athletes in professional golf.

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