Skip to main content
Original Issue


This is Jesper Parnevik.

This is Jesper's brain. He can memorize a list of 140 things in
just a few minutes. He understands quantum mechanics. He has
read the Bible, as well as much of the Koran and the Talmud. He
also once entered a golf tournament, then drove to the wrong city.

These are Jesper's eyes. Sometimes, on airplanes, he wears
large, flashing, beeping sunglasses over them in an effort to
unite the left side of his brain with the right. You really
don't want to sit next to Jesper on a long flight.

This is Jesper's hat. When he plays golf, he flips up the brim,
Gomer Pyle-style. He looks as if he's playing in a 132-mph wind
or took a wrong turn at Churchill Downs. One day several years
ago he wore his hat like that to get some sun, and putts started
diving into holes. He has worn his hat that way ever since.

This is Jesper's nose. Whenever Jesper goes on the road, he
brings scents that make him feel at home. He also brings his
juicer, boxes of books, his meditation pillow, his hot plate,
his rock and crystal collection, and posters, which he puts up
on the walls. Sometimes it takes so much junk to make Jesper
feel at home that he has to take two cabs.

This is Jesper's mouth. Once, for three months, he put nothing
but fruit and volcanic sand into it. "Very cleansing," says
Jesper. These are Jesper's teeth. He had all his fillings
replaced with porcelain to cure his allergies. He claims it did.
These are Jesper's chakras. We don't know what chakras are, but
Jesper has them measured regularly.

And (gulp) these are Jesper's pants. They've got peg legs and
look like something the Bee Gees would wear. Jesper says they're
1960s retro. They're so tight that when he wore them for the
first time, in January, he couldn't even bend over to get his
ball out of the hole. Even so, he has finished in the top five
in four of his six PGA Tour starts this year and is currently
fifth on the money list. He's still wearing the pants.

Whether it's because of the pants or the fillings or the ongoing
effort to unite his brain, Jesper, 32, has been making more
birdies lately than a badminton equipment company. He has been
playing out of his mind. Of course, a lot of people on the Tour
think Jesper is out of his mind. This is the guy who missed a
playoff for a spot in the final round of last year's Sprint
International because he had miscalculated the cut and headed
out of town, easily his worst drive of the day. This is the guy
who forgot to look at a scoreboard during the last seven holes
of the 1994 British Open, thought he needed a birdie on 18 to
tie when he needed only a par and instead made a bogey. This is
the guy who once lost four plane tickets on one trip--left one
in the hotel room, parked the second on his lunch tray during
the flight, dropped the third in the crack between the computer
and the airline agent's desk during a layover and can't remember
what happened to the fourth.

The caddies call him Spaceman, but not because his head is a
void. In fact, it's just the opposite. So much stuff is jammed
in Jesper's cranium that there's no room left to remember which
hotel he's registered at. On his bookshelf at home in South Palm
Beach, Fla., are such titles as Advanced Chess, Understanding
Your Dreams and Essays on the Apocalypse. He speaks three
languages (English, Swedish and German), is something of a math
wiz and has no idea where his car keys are.

Jesper's father is also like this. Bo Parnevik, the most famous
comedian in Sweden, can put on a two-hour one-man show--doing
uncanny impersonations of Ronald Reagan, Columbo and Liberace,
and changing his makeup and costumes onstage--and yet he has
walked out of his house with his pants on inside out. "It's hard
to think of your father as a guy in a wig and makeup," Jesper
says. Still, for a time, Jesper wanted to follow his dad into
show business. Jesper won the lead in most of his school's plays
and was in a rock band called Lotus (he played piano) that he
was sure was going to be bigger than ABBA. But then he got into
a sport that doesn't give a damn who your father is, and maybe
for that very reason, he loved it.

When he was 13, Jesper would stand in the backyard of his
family's gorgeous 13th-century mansion outside Stockholm and hit
floating golf balls into a lake. His dad would be in a canoe,
gathering them in with a net. Then father and son would switch
places. "It could be very dangerous," Jesper says, "because the
other guy would try to pelt you out there." They gave a new
meaning to the term water hole when they tied a flagstick to a
buoy, floated it out on the lake and surrounded it with a long
piece of tubing that formed the outline of a green. People would
come by and see them working with their canoe and nets and say,
"Isn't that nice? The Parneviks have a salmon farm."

But playing golf in Sweden is upstream all the way. Sunless
days, chilly summers, hot tubs. Jesper, who quickly rose through
the Swedish national program, decided at 19 that he must learn
in the U.S. if he was to become really good. In 1984 he enrolled
at Palm Beach (Fla.) Junior College--even though he already had
a university degree in business--met a lovely au pair from
Sweden named Mia, married her and set his mind to conquering the
most unconquerable game of all. This is one powerful, obsessed,
whacked-out mind, and when it becomes fixated, it doesn't let
go. After two years at Palm Beach J.C., Jesper turned pro and in
1988 qualified for the European tour. In '93 he won for the
first time, at the Scottish Open. "If you're going to try
something," Jesper is always saying, usually when Mia is
attempting to talk him off some nutty intellectual ledge, "then
you should try it."

You wouldn't believe what Jesper has tried. He met a Russian ESP
expert who said he was Mikhail Gorbachev's psychic bodyguard. He
had Jesper change his practice habits so they would align with
the planets.

He met a man who took a sample of Jesper's blood and calculated
the magnetic frequencies in it. When Jesper was feeling low or
ill, the man would study the sample, determine what might be
ailing Jesper and transmit the healing radio-wave frequencies to
him. "If I died," Jesper says, "he says he would know just by
looking at the blood."

He met a healer who would move his hands over the aura
surrounding Jesper's body and feel what pained Jesper. "He told
me, 'You have a scar inside your stomach,'" says Jesper. "And he
was right. I had an ulcer once."

"Jesper has always been a deep-thinking man," says his father,
"but I have difficulty following him sometimes."

Jesper met a fruitarian who got him eating fast foods. Not that
kind of fast foods. Fast-vibrating foods. "He told me that the
earth is spinning faster now, that the vibrations on this planet
are much faster and that my body was too slow to keep up with
it," says Jesper. "So he had me eat nothing but fruit, which is
a very fast-vibrating food." The man warned against eating too
many fast-vibrating foods (melons are dangerous), or Jesper
might spin right off the face of the earth. "I'll be honest,"
says Parnevik's best friend, Rick Hartman, the pro at the
Atlantic Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., "I really worry about

Jesper met a man who read Jesper's retinas like tea leaves. One
time the guy said, "You took a lot of penicillin as a kid." And
he was right! Now, Jesper believes penicillin is harmful because
it destroys stomach bacteria, which he feels are essential.

He met a man who hooked electrodes to Jesper's fingers to
determine how Jesper's liver was working and which vertebrae
were out of place. "That guy said he knew a lot of people who
were not from our planet," says Jesper. "I met them, and I think
they are from here."

Jesper's golf is sometimes as strange as his Rolodex. He's more
into the journey than the score, the beauty of the parts rather
than the whole. He's fascinated by golf's challenges. He once
saw a trick-shot artist hit a one-iron straight up into the air
and spent four months trying to learn the shot. He's bored silly
by your basic five-iron to the middle of the green and will bust
his cerebrum thinking of a way not to hit it. How about a punch
instead? How about a low riser with 80 yards of hook in it? "It
used to hurt my game," he says. "I would have three shots in
mind as I was into my downswing and still hadn't decided."

It has been said that there has never been a great smart golfer.
The game covers so much landscape, requires so much luck and is
played with such a tiny ball that thinking men are thunderstruck
by its difficulty. Golf is like watching a 747 take off: The
more you think about it, the more impossible it seems. For a
time, golf seemed impossible to Jesper, but he grew up and began
to let his talent get in the way of his manic mind. He started
deciding which shot to hit before he hit it. He joined the PGA
Tour full time in '94 and that July was in the hunt at the
British Open at Turnberry, until Nick Price eagled the 17th and
Jesper made his boo-boo with the scoreboard. He may have blown a
major championship, but he thinks he made up for it in major
karma. "It was my first chance to win a major, but I didn't
deserve it yet," he says. "It would've been too soon. Besides,
in the long run it's just your name on something, isn't it?"

Another consolation was that he got his first big endorsement.
He popped out of a suitcase in a commercial for an American
hotel chain and said, "Recently, I've had some trouble with
numbers, so I want to be completely sure of this one: 1-800...."

O.K., so Jesper is an eccentric, but given the way he's playing
this year--third at the Hope, second at Phoenix, fifth at Pebble
Beach, second at San Diego and 28th last week at Doral--he's now
a complete golfer, too. It's only a matter of time before he
wins his first Tour event. Trouble is, Jesper has no idea where
all of this season's success is coming from. "I never practiced
less going into a year than I did for this one," he says.

Could it be the three-day Dave Pelz short-game course he took at
the end of last year? Could it be the new music he had specially
written to play in the car on the way to tournaments, so that on
the course he'd always be humming these lyrics, in Swedish:
"I'll knock it stiff all day/I'm the best driver in the world/I
can win every time I tee it up!" (It loses something in the

God forbid, could it really be the pants? "To be honest," Jesper
says, "they've helped my swing. They restrict my hip turn."
(Memo to Craig Stadler: Don't even think about it.)

Then again, maybe it's just that the genius Jesper finally met
was himself. Maybe he became amazed by a marvelous new
machine--his own swing. "He has much more confidence now," says
Mia. "It wasn't easy for him, growing up with such a famous

Says Bo, beaming, "He wanted to do something on his own, and he
has done it. Now, he's not known as my son. I'm known as his

There's only one person maybe a little displeased by Jesper's
hot play: European Ryder Cup captain Seve Ballesteros. Jesper
would be one of Europe's strongest players--"We cannot go to
Valderrama [site in Spain of the match in September] without
Jesper Parnevik," says European star Colin Montgomerie--but
because Jesper's playing in the U.S. and not earning points in
European tournaments that count toward making the team,
Ballesteros would have to use one of his two captain's picks to
get him. And with one pick almost certainly going to Nick Faldo,
Ballesteros would be out of options. Then again, even if Jesper
gets picked, who says he'll be able to find his way to Spain?

Playing in the Ryder Cup is a big goal for Parnevik. So is
shooting in the mid-50s, winning the Grand Slam, meditating with
a guru for six months, discovering his past lives and starting a
chain of summer camps for kids in Sweden. "Sports and hiking
during the day, math puzzles and mental games at night," he says.

That's a long way off, though. Right now, Jesper has been
reading about something that he's sure is going to change his
life. "Hair roots," he says. "You see, I met this guy who wants
to test my hair to see exactly what minerals are lacking in my
organs, and...."

COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW KAUFMAN Well-known on the Tour for his peculiar tastes, Jesper consumed nothing but fruit and volcanic sand for three months. [Jesper Parnevik eating volcanic sand]

COLOR PHOTO: J.D. CUBAN/ALLSPORT Jesper practiced less in the off-season but has already won more money in 1997 than he did in '96. [Jesper Parnevik playing golf]

B/W PHOTO: AFTONBLADET BILDJesper's father, Bo, a celebrated impressionist in Sweden, says his son is now more famous than he. [Bo Parnevik imitating Richard Nixon]

COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW KAUFMAN In life as in golf, Jesper prefers to concentrate on the journey rather than on the final destination. [Jesper Parnevik meditating]