He has undergone surgery on both hips, came close to severing a finger after it was caught in a boat winch, suffered cracked ribs in a Segway spill and arrived here with a sore back from working out with cage fighters. Yet, at the halfway stage in the £1.35 million Senior Open Championship, Jesper Parnevik is fighting fit and chasing more Swedish success on Scottish soil.
A fortnight after Alex Noren landed the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and a week after Henrik Stenson became the first Scandinavian to be crowned as Open champion with his thrilling triumph at Troon, Parnevik sits joint third, one behind Japan’s Kohki Idoki (67) and American Joe Durant (68), in the over-50s’ Claret Jug event. Another Swede, Magnus Atlevi, is also in contention for a £213,040 top prize, sitting a stroke further back. But, with all due respect, him coming out on top in Angus tomorrow evening wouldn’t be nearly as good as Parnevik landing this title.
In some respects, it would almost be his compensation for coming close to beating Stenson to that big punch, the one we’ve been waiting for a Swede to deliver for ages. He finished second twice, after all, in The Open, including the 1997 event at Royal Troon after holding the lead going into the final round. It would also see a man every bit as colourful, entertaining and engaging as Stenson, and who held off Payne Stewart to win the Scottish Open at Gleneagles in 1993, tasting victory in the sport’s cradle for the second time in his career.
“I don’t know what to say,” admitted Parnevik after signing for a four-under-par 68 – it was illuminated by an eagle 3 at the 14th, where a tugged 4-iron approach got a favourable bounce off a mound to end up ten feet from the hole – to sit on six-under 138 alongside American duo Olin Browne (66) and Tom Byrum (69) as well as Australian Peter Fowler (69) and Paraguayan Carlos Franco (69).
“I hurt my back about a month ago. I felt so good in the gym, that I ended up working out with a couple of MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters. That was a bad idea. My back was out for about three weeks and I didn’t know what to expect here. It’s probably Stenson inspiration and Scottish inspiration as I always love coming here and I love this type of golf. After Alex and Henrik, I’m going to see if I can do the trifecta.”
If you wonder how a golfing golden oldie got involved with two cage fighters, it is because Parnevik is not your run-of-the-mill professional. He has lived in America for 30 years but has become a television star in his homeland through a reality programme called The Parneviks. It captures the wackiness that is Jesper, his wife Mia, their four children, including pop star daughter Peg, and celebrity Swedish visitors to the family’s home in Jupiter, Florida.
“I was in the gym and watched how these guys – one of them was The Mauler, Alex Gustafsson, who was on the second season of our show – were training, and I said, ‘I’ll try some of that’. And I actually felt okay. It was when I got home, I couldn’t move, and then I couldn’t move for about two weeks after that. I’ve done a lot of stupid things when it comes to my body. Three years ago, I almost cut my finger off when I was on a boat and my hand got caught in a winch. It was three quarters through and I needed surgery the next day to put it back on. I have no sensation in it. The year after that, I also fell off a Segway and I told myself then that I wasn’t going to do anything more stupid.”
Some probably thought Parnevik looked stupid when he first started wearing a duck-billed cap. It’s still his trademark. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he doesn’t look any different to how he did back in the mid-1990s. “I don’t know how,” he said, smiling. “I do everything wrong. I love wine. I’m out in the sun all the time and my cap is not blocking out the sun. Maybe that’s the recipe, be out in the sun and drink a lot of wine.”
Parnevik’s last win on European soil was the Scandinavian Masters in 1998. Having claimed a breakthrough Champions Tour victory in the Inspirity Invitational in Texas in May, though, he clearly has the tools to get this job done. “Winning is not in the back of my mind,” he insisted on a day when the benign conditions made the Carnoustie course more scoreable than the “torture” the Swede suffered along with everyone else at the same venue in 1999.
Kohki, 54, played his whole regular career on the Japan Tour before landing the 2013 Senior PGA Championship – the event won twice in the last three years by Colin Montgomerie – on his first appearance on US soil. The pick of the seven birdies that catapulted him into a share of the lead came at the 480-yard par-4 last, where he holed from a greenside bunker for a seven-under halfway total. It wasn’t until late in the day that he got company on that mark. Durant, a 52-year-old from Florida who won four times on the PGA Tour, matched Kohki’s 3 at the 18th to come home in 32, four under. “I just tried to stay patient and avoid the fairway bunkers,” he said. “If you start driving it in those, all bets are off.”
Alongside Atlevi, who went birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle from the 11th before dropping shots at each of the final two holes on five under is the 1998 Open champion, Mark O’Meara. “Any win is a good win, but this one would be very special,” admitted the 59-year-old, who made his 30th Open appearance last week and made the cut.
While Miguel Angel Jimenez (four under) and two-time champion Bernhard Langer (two under) are still in the hunt, Montgomerie (76-73) missed the cut by a shot on five over, three more than playing partner Tom Watson (70) and Andrew Oldcorn, the sole Scot left in the field after rounds of 72 and 74.