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OUT of the WOODS
John Garrity
September 16, 2002
Robert Karlsson, golf's designated seeker of truth and Winner of last week's European Masters, has taken a New Age route to success
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September 16, 2002

Out Of The Woods

Robert Karlsson, golf's designated seeker of truth and Winner of last week's European Masters, has taken a New Age route to success

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"Golf was the only thing I did during the summer," Robert says. "I had two sets of friends—school friends and golf friends."

If there was a seed of self-destruction in his upbringing, Karlsson didn't recognize it until he was 27 and a regular on the European tour. The trouble started in 1996, when he noticed that fairways were narrowing and trees spreading their branches the instant he pushed his tee into the ground. "I could hit it fine on the driving range," he says, "but I was panicking on the tee. Badly. I saw out-of-bounds that no one else ever saw."

Determined to fix the problem, he spent hours on the practice range. "Working hard didn't work," he says. "The more I practiced, the better I got, but the better I got, the worse I performed. Mentally, I couldn't handle what was happening. I was ready to give up."

Frustrated and angry, Karlsson took the advice of his sports psychologist and signed up for a week in the woods. The workshop, at a rural retreat near Norrk�ping, was, in Karlsson's words, "for people fed up with life." He spent lots of quiet time in the trees ("Tranquility gives you perspective," he says) and reached a profound conclusion: He could live without golf. "Accepting that I could do something else with my life was very important," he says. "It took a lot of the pressure off me."

To that point Karlsson's emotional journey had followed a predictable route. "Pretty much all Swedish players work on the same things," says recent first-time Euro tour winner Adam Mednick, a Karlsson admirer. "We see if we have mental blocks. If we have any ghosts in the closet, we drag them out and confront them."

After his retreat Karlsson's next step was a weeklong group therapy session at the Mullingstorp Education and Health Institute with Dr. Bengt Stern, the renowned therapist and author of Feeling Bad Is a Good Start. Stern's program, which is designed for patients with terminal illnesses, places great emphasis on childhood traumas and often leaves his patients trembling and bawling.

"It's very deep therapy," says Zachrisson. "You can't go through it without another relative along to take care of you."

Karlsson cried for most of the week. In subsequent sessions with Stern he brought along his father and his mother, Valborg (who died last year of cancer).

"When you're born, you're this pearl," Palmcrantz says. She is watching Karlsson play in the first round of the Volvo Scandinavian Masters in Kungs�ngen, Sweden. "When you get older and become an adult, you put on all these layers to protect the pearl. You're an onion."

Therapy, she goes on, forces the troubled adult to peel off the layers, all the accrued denials and rationalizations of modern life. "And when you peel off enough, you're this pearl again," Palmcrantz says.

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