Quirky, but not in a bad way. Odd, but nice. Strange, but a decent fellow. Swedish golfer Jesper Parnevik - you know, the guy who wears his hat funny - gets more attention for how he dresses and what he eats than what he shoots. While playing a practice round at Disney last week, he shared a golf cart with Times staff writer and hack golfer Tom Jones (Jesper drove). In between shots, Parnevik, 35, talked about playing matchmaker for Tiger Woods, his famous father, eating volcanic sand and the real story behind his hat.
TJ: Okay, how many times have you been asked about the hat?
JP: Endless times.
TJ: Well, let's make it endless plus one. What's the deal with the hat?
JP: I grew up in Sweden, and it's kind of a dark place. I was playing with a hat and wanted to get some sun on my face - you know, get a tan - and it's not real sunny over in Sweden, so I turned (the bill) up. Then I started putting better with my hat like that for whatever reason, so I just left it like that.
TJ: You're known for your hat, but you also wear some pretty funky clothes. Hot pink pants, crazy colors, tight shirts. Any of the other players give you a hard time about your fashion tastes?
JP: Not really. I get some looks, but they're used to it by now.
TJ: What do your wife and kids think about it?
JP: My wife doesn't say much and my kids, I think, are too young to know that . . .
TJ: . . . that Daddy dresses strange?
JP: Yeah (laughs).
TJ: Maybe you get it from your dad, Bo. Isn't he a big deal back in Sweden?
JP: Yes. He's a big comedian there. He is kind of like Sweden's Bob Hope or Bill Cosby or Johnny Carson. He's really big back there. Does impressions and everything.
TJ: I heard he does a mean Richard Nixon.
JP: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan. He did J.R. when Dallas was big. He does Columbo.
JP: Yeah, and he's really good. All of his impressions are really good.
TJ: Did he ever do any movies?
JP: Yeah, a few. He would appear as himself.
TJ: Okay, so if there was a movie made about the Parnevik family, your dad would play himself. Who would play you?
JP: I don't think you could find anybody that could play me.
TJ: Yeah, you have the reputation of being a little quirky. For starters, you're really into your health and I heard you take a ton of vitamins. You even have your own company, Lifizz, which distributes vitamins.
JP: We started off distributing effervescent vitamins (all-natural powder that fizzes when added to water). Effervescent is big in Europe, but not so much here. So that's what we started off doing. Now, we're getting more into pharmaceuticals.
TJ: Okay, gotta ask. Was it true that among the vitamins you have taken, you used to eat volcanic sand?
JP: That's true. A few years ago, I was on this all-fruit diet. And I met this guy who said I should take volcanic sand because it absorbs all the acid and absorbs the mercury in your body. So I took it for a while. I was at this tournament and I was putting real well and someone asked me why and I mentioned that maybe it was because I was taking volcanic sand. All hell broke loose then.
TJ: What do you mean?
JP: Everyone made a big deal about it. Then all these people with all kinds of strange ideas for diets and so forth started approaching me. I still get that. I know I'm a magnet for those type of people. But it's all right because you get to meet some interesting people that way. Anyway, I don't take the volcanic sand anymore.
TJ: But you are serious about your health?
JP: I have to be. I play golf. I'm an athlete.
TJ: What do you say to people who say golfers aren't athletes?
JP: The tennis player, Mikael Pernfors, once carried my bags at the Byron Nelson and said, "I can't believe how hard this is, carrying a bag around for 18 holes on a hot day. This is tough." And we practice more than most athletes.
TJ: Most athletes practice an hour or two, you guys play and practice, what, four-five hours a day?
JP: Four? Try 12. That's more than any of the other sports.
TJ: Did you play other sports growing up in Sweden?
JP: Yeah, I played everything.
TJ: Hockey is big in Sweden. Did you play?
JP: When I was real young.
TJ: Do you know any of the NHL guys from Sweden?
JP: Sure, I know all of them. I'm friends with (Colorado's Peter) Forsberg.
TJ: Give us the scoop then. The big rumor is Forsberg is going to retire and go back to Sweden after the season. They say this is his last year.
JP: They've been saying that for three years.
TJ: Back to the health thing. Do you do yoga?
JP: Yeah. I used to do it every day, but since I hurt my hip a while back, I don't do it as much.
TJ: Speaking of yoga, you got into a disagreement with your caddie, Lance Ten Broeck, last week and he left after the round on Friday. Didn't your yoga instructor serve as your caddie for the rest of the tournament?
JP: (Laughs) Yeah, Dada.
TJ: Dada? That's his name, right? Dada Atma? How did he do?
JP: Like you would think a yoga instructor would do. He had never done it before. He didn't know how to carry the bag, or tend the pins, or anything. I kept telling him, "Okay, don't get in anybody's line of sight when they're putting. Don't make any motion when people are putting or driving. Stay out of their (putting) lines." I spent half my time telling him what not to do, teaching him the golf etiquette. It was pretty funny.
TJ: But you then went out and shot one of your better rounds of the year (65) with Dada as your caddie.
JP: Yeah, I got him through it.
TJ: So will you use him again?
JP: Uh, I don't think so. His days of being a caddie are over.
TJ: You live in Jupiter, Florida. What's the best thing about living in the United States?
JP: I like the opportunities this country gives you. The hope of good things, the promise. And the attitude of the people. People here in the States want to see you succeed. It's not always that way back in Sweden. There, some people get jealous if you have success. It's not like that here.
TJ: Do you miss Sweden, though?
JP: For sure. It's my home. We go back every summer. I think it's important for my (four) kids to go back there and spend time. They spend about two months there in the summer.
TJ: You think you'll ever move back?
JP: I don't know. Maybe someday. You never know what might happen. When my wife (Mia) and I first came here, we said we would move back when we had kids. But this is where my career is, so we've stayed. I love Florida.
TJ: Do your kids speak Swedish?
JP: Oh yeah. That's what we speak at home. It's amazing how quickly kids pick up languages. My son is 2 and we speak Swedish at home, but he also can speak English. Our kids use words that I'll say to my wife, "Where did they learn that? We don't use that phrase or those words." They just pick it up. I don't know where.
TJ: When did you start speaking English?
JP: In Sweden, they start teaching it in first grade, but until you actually speak it with people, you really don't speak English. You just know it from a book, but that's totally different than using it in everyday conversation. At first, like everyone who comes here, the English language can be intimidating.
TJ: But it seems like some people from other countries can speak the language really well if they move here.
JP: That's because they learn the proper use of the language. I remember when I went to college here and I would take a test on English, and I would score 100 all the time while some of the American students wouldn't. If you're from another country, you don't get into the slang and words that aren't really words. You speak the language the way it's supposed to be spoken. You use the words correctly.
TJ: Let's change topics. If you could play in a foursome with any three people from history, who would you play with?
JP: Jesus. Buddha. And Einstein. I think that would be a pretty interesting round of golf.
TJ: Okay, name association. I throw out a name and you give me the first thoughts that come to your head.
TJ: Tiger Woods.
JP: I saw him play as a junior and all my friends said, "So, what is he like?" I said, "This guy is going to suck. You watch. He hits the ball far, but he's all over the place. He's not going to be as good as everyone thinks." So then he turns pro like eight months later and I see him again and I was like, "Whoa, what happened to this guy?" He was so good. The thing that impresses me most about Tiger is there are these huge expectations of him, and he still goes out and not only meets them, but exceeds them. You would think that someone who has all these expectations would never come close to meeting them. And yet he does. That's impressive.
TJ: You introduced Tiger to his girlfriend, who was your nanny. What did you get in the trade?
JP: I'm still waiting. All I know is he owes me. Big time!
TJ: Next name: Annika Sorenstam.
JP: Hard-working. Goal-oriented. Very professional. A great golfer.
TJ: Mia Parnevik.
JP: It's true what they say: Behind every successful person is a great person. There has to be a certain type of wife for a professional golfer. It's not easy for someone, whether it's a guy giving up his life for a woman or the other way around, to be that supportive. But she's a great supporter.
TJ: Could you do it without her?
JP: No. She is so supportive and does so much. There's no way any of us, especially the ones with kids, could do what we do without someone at home taking care of everything. That's why so many relationships out here break up. It's a very testing environment.
TJ: One more name: Jesper Parnevik.
JP: (Long pause) I think about a guy who could be a little bit too curious, a little bit too . . . doesn't always take the short road. When I was beginning as a pro, I could never hit the straight, normal golf shot. I had to hit all these different shots. That's the way I grew up, fooling around on the range. Twenty different shots in my mind every time I lined up. When I pulled it off, it was unbelievable. But a lot of times, it didn't quite work out.
TJ: So you take the long road, but isn't that always the fun road?
JP: Yeah. But taking the long road can also be very frustrating sometimes. I had an old coach who was a musician, and he would say a drummer who really knows how to play drums and has been around for a long time, he is just going to sit there and tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, keep the steady beat. He's only going to show off the very basics. But he does that really well. But the young kid who plays the drum goes crazy - boom, bam, bloom, bam - all over the place. They show off. "Look what I can do." But it doesn't sound that good. But at the same time, the old drummer has no fun! (Laughs)
TJ: So you're not going to become an old drummer?
JP: I've never enjoyed taking the easy road. I'm not going to start now.