HOYLAKE, England – Two years ago, at the British Open 60 miles up the road at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Robert Karlsson had the yips.
Not the traditional yips that you think of with the putter, full-bore yips with anything in his hands. Simply put, he couldn’t pull the trigger. He withdrew that year on the eve of the championship and didn’t know what his future would hold.
Karlsson, 44, returned at the PGA Championship and missed the cut. Two more missed cuts followed at the Wyndham Championship and the KLM Open. He struggled for most of the next year and admits that he never felt completely recovered from the nightmare until last November at the OHL Classic in Mexico, where he played in the final group with Harris English. Although Karlsson shot 72 that day and tied for sixth place he finally felt like himself, a player who has represented Europe twice (2006, 2008) in the Ryder Cup and won 11 times on the European Tour.
After a first-round 69 Thursday at the British Open here at Royal Liverpool, Karlsson was the early leader. Ultimately his score was both matched and bettered, but that’s not the point. The yips are a thing of the past and Karlsson isn’t afraid to discuss the demons that nearly made him quit the game he dearly loves.
“I had to do some soul searching for myself if I wanted to keep doing this,” Karlsson said Thursday without hesitation. “When I decided I wanted to, it was a look back on trying to understand what I did good in 2008, and what I wasn’t doing very good now.
“It was health problems, but more in the brain. I’ve been working very hard from June of last year and things are kind of coming together nicely now, so I’m happy.”
Karlsson was first off Thursday at Hoylake (6:25 a.m. local time) and was surprised that the stands surrounding the tee box were packed. He was 1 over after nine holes, but made four birdies over the final nine holes – including a chip-in – to shoot 3 under in perfect conditions.
Still, this performance is not totally surprising. Karlsson has shown much better form over the past month. He finished fourth at the French Open two weeks ago, which qualified him for this Open, and he tied for eighth-place last week at the Scottish Open.
“At the moment I’m pretty happy to be 140th in the world,” Karlsson said. “Two weeks ago I was 199th. It’s something inspiring me and trying to get me back… At the moment it’s a waste of time to be frustrated.”