Like it or not, Carl Pettersson is an athlete
By Conor Nagle under PGA Tour

Nom nom nom: Pettersen on Harbour Town's 18th tee.

Expatriate Swede Carl Pettersson coasted to victory in the final round of the RBS Heritage yesterday, and did so while sporting a decidedly unfashionable spare tire about the midriff.

A five-time winner on Tour, his success and longevity (over $18 million in career earnings) stand as inconvenient counterpoints to a consensus opinion that increasingly equates physical fitness and raw athleticism with the potential for golfing success.

Not only does Petterss0n consitute an anomaly within the largely generic ranks of the modern-day Tour – he exists as a bulbous three-wood among one-irons – his biography exposes the limitations of contemporary science as applied to golf; a sport (yes, a sport) played at the point big, dynamic motions and dexterity collide.

Carl tried weight loss, and it didn’t work.

“’08 I had a good year.  I won Greensboro that year.  I was trying to figure out what I was going to do to get to the next level… I really started working out and eating better, and I lost 30 pounds very quickly.  That was during the off‑season, and it really threw my golf game‑‑ ’09 I played terrible, I finished 150‑something on the money list, FedExCup list.

“It took a long time, just the last six months I felt comfortable again.  Threw my timing off.  But I managed to win in Canada in ’10 with more lightning in a bottle.  I made a cut and shot 67 on the weekend.  I felt like this year my game was starting to come back to where it was in ’08, ’07, ’06 and ’05.  I played really solid.  It’s fun to play again, and I kept the weight on.”

As tempting as it is to read Pettersson’s story and substitute one absolute for another, dismiss the weight room in favour of a freewheeling laissez-faire attitude to personal upkeep, its lesson is in fact far more equivocal.

Golf, to an extent unrivalled in world sport, respects the idiosyncrasies of the human form. Beyond a certain threshold, it’s a pursuit decided by comfort, confidence and the ease with which one can withdraw from distraction.

Being fitter and stronger might ease the progress somewhat, it might fuel the ego and offer a tangible return on hours spent in diligent pursuit of success, but it’s not an infallible template for performance.

For at least every Pettersson-minded foe of abstinence, there’s a young Se Ri Pak running up flights of stairs backwards to build her calf muscles, or a teenage Jbe Kruger dragging a tractor tire in his wake:

“If you do that, you also have to do uphill runs. I saw him doing that. It’s not just running long distances. Running uphill and dragging something at the back definitely makes you stronger. That’s what I did.

“I used to drag along a tractor tire up a gravel road. It was like some 500 yards uphill but we would go up and down, up and down, up and down. It’s never easy. I don’t do it at the moment but I should start doing it again! That made me a lot stronger than what I would have been.”

The Route to the Tour is at heart an individual one, a life-long odyssey capable of tracing wildly different paths along the contours and joints of apparently similar personalities.

A final pairing of Colt Knost and Carl Pettersson mightn’t be televisual, then, but it speaks to golf’s status as the most democratic and subtle of athletic endeavours.

Conor Nagle