She would join friends at a drinking club after school and stay out until the early hours, though never past 6 a.m. "I had a rule," she says. "Never be late to school the next morning." There was another rule: Never drink after midnight. Between classes and all-night carousing, Alfredsson managed to squeeze in work as a waitress and time for study at the library. Her father found her too much to handle, and when she was 17 he sent her to live with her mother.
In the winter of her senior year in high school Alfredsson met a man at a dance club who told her she could make a lot of money in Paris as a model. Within a week Alfredsson was on a plane to France. Being a model, however, was not all she had imagined. "I hated it," she says. "It was a meat market." The 5'10" Alfredsson developed anorexia and lost 25 pounds, reaching a low of 120. "I was tired all the time, and I was losing hair." When she became exhausted after playing nine holes of golf with the Swedish national team in Italy, she realized it was time to go home.
Alfredsson finished high school at 19 and then fled on a golf scholarship to U.S. International University in San Diego. There she studied hard, partied hard and fought hard with her golf coach, Gordon Severson. "We argued all the time about how to do things," she says. "He was never satisfied." Their disagreements earned her three dismissals from the team in four years for everything from studying during practice to becoming romantically entangled with the school's soccer coach, Leo Cuellar, now her fiancé and sometime caddie.
More sophisticated than many of her classmates, Alfredsson developed few friendships in college. The little camaraderie she did find came from Cuellar, 13 years her senior and a former World Cup and Olympic soccer player for Mexico. They started to date in Alfredsson's junior year but kept their relationship quiet. When he came to visit, Cuellar would park a mile from Alfredsson's dormitory and sneak up to her room.
During summer vacations Alfredsson would return to Göteborg to be with her sister. "My dad had a new wife, and he didn't pay much attention to us," Alfredsson says. "He and his new wife and her three kids went and lived in our summer house, and Annica and I lived in the main house. The first time I came home, Annica was there alone with nothing in the refrigerator. We ate a lot of rice and ketchup those summers."
After graduating from USIU in 1988 with a 3.2 grade point average and a degree in international business and marketing, Alfredsson went home to play on the Women's Professional Golf European Tour. Cuellar joined her as her caddie during summers, but life on the road was not easy. "We'd sleep in the car," she says, "and ate a lot of prosciutto and cheese."
But if Alfredsson's diet suffered, her results didn't. She was WPGET Rookie of the Year in 1989 and won the women's British Open in '90. When asked what her proudest accomplishment on the European tour is, however, Alfredsson says, "I never missed a cut in six years."
Although Alfredsson has often had to struggle to put food in her mouth, she has little interest in accumulating wealth. She has a combined 12 LPGA and WPGET wins and $1.03 million in earnings, but the only extravagance she has indulged in over the past few years sits in her driveway: a jet-black Harley Davidson she bought in February for $7,500. There is only one hitch: Alfredsson is not yet licensed to drive it, so her cruising thus far consists of tours of her cul-de-sac. Alfredsson says, "I can't deny money gives you a great sense of freedom—you can come and go whenever you want. But it doesn't ever make you happy."
That her happiness depends on winning, not winnings, was apparent after her free fall in last year's Open. On the surface Alfredsson was composed. She blew appreciative kisses to the loudly applauding gallery after putting out on the 72nd hole, she spent several minutes in the TV booth talking with ABC's Brent Musberger and Steve Melnick, and she spent considerable time fielding questions from the press. Nonetheless she sobbed heavily afterward. "Why did this happen to me?" she said. "I'm a good person. I play hard. How can this happen two years in a row?"
In the following weeks Alfredsson was surprised and comforted by the letters of support she received from fans all over the country. She keeps those letters in a drawer in her bedroom. "Don't get discouraged," a man in Washington, D.C., wrote. "Golf needs you. We all need role models like you." Another letter, written in large block letters, reads: NEWS BULLETIN: HELEN ALFREDSSON A CLASS ACT! BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO THE LPGA SINCE NANCY LOPEZ.