While there’s been a much-celebrated group of 50-year-olds to make their debuts on PGA TOUR Champions this season, it’s a former Ryder Cupper with an impressive European Tour resume that is quietly having an excellent rookie campaign in 2020.
Robert Karlsson, an 11-time European Tour winner and two-time Ryder Cup member (plus an assistant on the winning European team in Paris in 2018), turned 50 last September and despite a few years of struggles he re-committed himself to improving almost three years ago with a laser-like focus on earning status on PGA TOUR Champions for 2020.
He made it through Q-School last fall and through 11 events this season he has six top-10 finishes, including the last three tournaments in a row.
And Karlsson, who calls Charlotte home, has ended the last two weeks with a bang.
After notching an ace at the PURE Insurance Championship, he holed out for an eagle on the par-4 closer at the SAS Championship, and again, for eagle, on the 72nd hole of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic.
“To hole a shot, that happens. But to hole out the last shot two tournaments in a row I have never heard it. I have never heard of anyone. It was ridiculous,” says Karlsson with a laugh. “I had a five hour drive home (after the Dominion Energy Charity Classic) and it was quite a pleasant drive.”
While the endings of Karlsson’s tournaments the last few weeks have been positive momentum-boosters, the whole season has been a solid beginning to this part of the big Swede’s golfing life.
“It has been a bit of a new start to my career,” he says of 2020, wishing only there were more tournaments left on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule for the balance of the year so then he could keep playing at the level he’s currently at.
Karlsson began working with Hans Larsson, a Swedish coach, about two-and-a-half years ago. Larsson was working with LPGA Tour winner Madelene Sagstrom while Karlsson was mentoring Sagstrom after she turned professional. Larsson – who works with more than 30 youngsters in Sweden teaching them golf – eventually helped Karlsson become more self-sufficient with his action.
Since Larsson can’t spend a large chunk of time individually with each of his young students, he helps them to understand the swing. His education, Karlsson says, is more about seeing cause and effect, and help them solve their own problems.
“It’s been a journey of educating myself on my own swing,” says Karlsson. “As a golfer it’s very hard, especially if you’ve become dependent on a coach, to teach yourself during tournament golf. That’s the hardest thing.
“Golf is a very difficult time but I’ve taken a slightly different approach to it and I’ve worked out well. I feel better about what I’m doing and if things go badly I have a certain amount of exercises and drills I can do to make sure I’m heading in the right direction.”
And while Karlsson says he has seen some good results, his confidence is buoyed knowing that he’s still having those good results without getting 100 percent out of his golf game. At the SAS Championship, for example, he opened with a 73, but battled back with rounds of 66-68 to finish T4.
He says playing the PGA TOUR Champions suits his game well, having excelled through his career with his short irons. The course set-ups on the PGA TOUR Champions lend themselves well to Karlsson’s game. He says, as well, that the vibe with the 50-plus circuit has given him a new perspective on life, and golf, and it’s been an enjoyable time so far.
Everything isn’t perfect but he’s getting close, he says, and more than that, he’s happy to be putting in the work.
“Things have fallen into place and when you’re playing well, success tends to lead to success,” says Karlsson. “When I’ve played on the European Tour and didn’t play well, the confidence goes down and down and down because you feel some tournaments you’re doing alright but you’re not up in the top because the younger guys are just better. When I have a little bit taste of success I start to play better as well and all of a sudden it becomes very positive.”
With the success Karlsson has found so far, he admits with a small laugh, that it almost never happened. He was well over-par after the first round of the PGA TOUR Champions pre-qualifying tournament last fall.
“I almost shot myself in the foot my first day at Q-School. I had to work very hard,” says Karlsson, who did make it to Final Stage, with a few shots to spare, and finished third in Arizona.
So Karlsson battled back at Q-School, and now he’s battled to the top of the leaderboard a few times during the PGA TOUR Champions season. But for a global star, what’s kept him motivated to want to almost reinvent himself at 50? Simple, he says.
“The game is always about self satisfaction. It is challenging me. And, it brings out both the best and the worst in me,” he says with a laugh. “When you have too much of ‘the worst of you’ then you have to do something about. This year has been a new start.”