Just before we enter the brief, bi-annual season when cringeworthy celebrations, epic displays of petulance (ie. Sergio being a dweeb), even idiocy , define what it is that makes team golf so energising, it’s appropriate that the unheralded resurgence of one of world golf’s great outliers should for us to pause and take stock of the fact that golf’s lasting appeal is to be found in the compelling psychodrama of man versus course (or wardrobe), not team versus team.
Jarmo Sandelin has been largely absent from European Tour leaderboards over the last decade, arguably never the same golfer since he was marginalised by Mark James at the 1999 Ryder Cup, and has even flirted on occasion with losing his livelihood altogether. He currently sits a lowly 168th on the Race to Dubai points list (Europe’s equivalent of the FedEx Cup) and finds himself in the awkward position of having to manufacture at least one big result in the season’s few remaining events with little but a lengthy mental catalogue of bad shots and poor finishes to draw upon for inspiration.
Jarmo, however, has never been one to back away from a challenge– just ask Mark O’Meara or Lee Westwood— and has set about adding to his five career wins at this week’s Vivendi Cup* with a calm very much at odds with his flamboyant public persona. Through fifteen holes of the third round, he’s tied for the lead with Englishman John Parry.
A naturalised Swede of Finnish birth whose introduction to the game came courtesy of childhood weekends spent playing crazy golf in the basement of a McDonalds, seemingly every aspect of Jarmo’s contact with the game has been unconventional. By the time he arrived on tour in the mid-nineties he was a fully-fledged non-conformist, a colourful extrovert on a sports circuit painted in grey and browns.
Years before Ian Poulter ever donned a flared trouser in irony, Jarmo was swaggering down the fairways of Europe’s most prestigious courses wearing snakeskin golf shoes, skin-tight flared combats, diamond-studded belt buckles, the occasional see-through shirt and unorthodox shades of his own design. With his long-suffering wife and sometime caddy, Linda, in tow, he was an exciting interloper, a dash of flavour at the European Tour’s drab vegan restaurant. He couldn’t be anything but endearing.
To see him rolling back the years at Golf de Joyenval this week, a little heavier perhaps, but still a towering mass of hair gel and nearly tangible arrogance, is to indulge in the best possible kind of nostalgia. Tee-shots bring back memories of his old 52-inch driver, every swing of which was more an exercise in performance art than golf, and every lasered approach shot reminds you that Jarmo was carrying five wedges long before Phil Mickelson ever decided to push the boat out. I’ll be rooting for Sandelin this Sunday and it feels less a matter of choice than an obligation for any fan of the game.
Searching the interwebs for Jarmo-related media, I came across this fairly recent Cribs-style promo video he filmed with fellow European Tour odd-ball Wayne Riley for a resort development in Portugal. It’s either the best or worst thing I’ve ever seen, I can’t decide—”Did you know in Finland we’re making babies in the sauna and often we get boys?”
*I referred to the tournament as the ‘Vivendi Trophy’ in a previous post.