Parnevik attempting comeback, but will his body allow it?

January 10, 2011
Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

With his turned-up hat, natty attire and quirky ways, Jesper Parnevik has always stood out on the PGA TOUR.

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Now he's just trying to stay there.

The 45-year-old Swede is fully exempt this season only because he is getting to reuse his one-time exemption for being in the top 50 in all-time earnings. That's because he only played five events in 2010 due to a back injury.

Parnevik, who makes his season debut this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, knows the clock may be ticking on his career. In the last five years, he battled through injuries to his left hip and right hip, then suffered fractured vertebrae last February when he had to withdraw at Riviera -- none of which are good ailments for a golfer.

Or anyone active, for that matter.

"This is something I'm going to have to deal with for the rest of my life, whether I keep playing golf or not," Parnevik said. "If I can't play golf because of this, then I can't play. But I'm going to try my hardest to play."

It has almost been 10 years since Parnevik won the last of his five PGA TOUR titles, rising to an Official World Golf Ranking of No. 8 in 2000. It has been nine years since he played on the last of his three Ryder Cup teams, back when he was easily Sweden's most successful and famous golfer. His 14-year run of finishing in the top 125 on the TOUR's money list ended in 2008. He has made just six cuts in 19 starts the last two years.

It's a cycle every injured player goes through on the PGA TOUR. First, you lose your health, then your swing, then your confidence.

"When you get injured, you compensate so much, your swing changes," Parnevik said. "My swing motion was actually very, very good before I got hurt. It has gradually changed to something totally different. I'm trying to get it back to where it was when I worked with Jimmy Ballard."

Parnevik has always enjoyed working with his swing. Perhaps too much. He and close friend Vijay Singh have long been known for closing down ranges, sometimes with unusual training aids.

Thirty years of swinging a golf club has caught up with Parnevik's body. He said there was no one "incident" where he injured his back; rather, a lifetime of swings. The problem with his back injury is you never know when it's going to return. Or how long it's going to remain.

"I'll make five birdies in a row and feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel," Parnevik said. "Then I'll take a bad step and I can hardly make a swing because my back is so stiff."

Lance Ten Broeck, who has caddied for Parnevik for almost a decade, is confident enough in Parnevik's game that he returned to the Swede's bag for this season. Ten Broeck plays with Parnevik usually once a week during the winter because they live near each other in Jupiter, Fla., and has come away impressed.

"I think if his body can hold up, he will be all right," Ten Broeck said. "He's in good shape, but I don't know if he's in good golf shape. That only comes from playing. But he's putting as well now as he ever has."

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Parnevik, whose father Bo was a famous entertainer in Sweden, has many interests outside golf. He's an accomplished magician, loves to play games such as backgammon and bridge, and was once famously known for drinking volcanic dust because he thought it cleansed his body.

When asked what he would do if he couldn't play golf after this year, Parnevik wouldn't even consider that option.

"I'm sure there are a lot of things I can do, but I try not to think about that," he said. "You start losing your focus. I want to think positive and put my full 100 percent focus on the golf."

Parnevik has always had a "busy" mind. He admits to thinking about things such as how much string would it take to cover the earth -- when he's about to hit a putt.

Parnevik insists dealing with injuries is more of a mental battle than a physical one.

"The problem is I have the same expectations as when I'm healthy," he said. "It doesn't matter how you feel or how healthy you are -- you still think you can play well. It becomes a conflict of the mind and the body."

Parnevik needs to solve this conflict swiftly. This could be his last fully-exempt season on the PGA TOUR.

He needs to play well to stay there. The PGA TOUR needs him to play well, because it's a more interesting place with Parnevik around.

Craig Dolch is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.