Before the 2009 season, Carl Pettersson lost 30 pounds and he lost his game. The burly 34-year-old Gothenburg, Sweden native had won the Wyndham Championship in 2008 and was trying to take his game to the next level by eating better and getting more fit. The former North Carolina State star thought that's what you had to do if you wanted to beat Tiger and Phil. But the weight loss wasn't right for his game.
In '09, he missed 12 cuts and finished 136th on the money list. After that horrible year, the worst of his pro career, he dedicated himself to putting the weight back on by indulging in his beer and favorite foods.
"It took a long time, just the last six months I felt comfortable again," Pettersson said. "Threw my timing off. But I managed to win in Canada in '10 with more hitting lightning in a bottle. I felt like this year my game was starting to come back to where it was in '08, '07, '06 and '05. I played really solid. It's fun to play again, and I kept the weight on."
On Sunday, with a potbelly that spilled easily over his belt, Pettersson won his fifth PGA Tour event with a five-shot win at the RBC Heritage at the Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head. He started the final round with a one-shot lead over Colt Knost, but separated himself from the field with three early birdies. With his nearest competitors not putting up much of a fight, he coasted with a 2-under 69 for a 14-under par total.
Pettersson, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., was bound to get into the winner's circle in 2012 after second-place finishes earlier this season at the Sony Open and in Houston. He didn't get into the Masters, so he had the week off between Houston and Hilton Head to relax. But with this win he'll be in Augusta next year.
I can see it now: Pettersson presiding over a kegger under the tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse after winning the green jacket. It just might happen. A guy won it this year by doing it his way.
Sunset on the Masters
Last Monday after losing in a playoff to Bubba Watson at the Masters, Louis Oosthuizen flew to Kuala Lumpur from Augusta for the Maybank Malaysian Open with his friend, Charl Schwartzel. It would have been understandable if the 29-year-old South African had pulled out of the tournament after such an emotionally draining week in Augusta, but Oosthuizen kept his commitment and endured the 20-hour flight.
A year ago he had celebrated on this same flight to Malaysia with Schwartzel, who won the 2011 Masters with four closing birdies.
You wouldn't have known what Oosthuizen had been through at the Masters by the way he played this week at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. He got his fourth professional victory on Sunday with a three-shot win in Malaysia. He had four rounds in the 60s and finished 17-under-par for the tournament. He was masterful.
After the playoff on Easter Sunday, Schwartzel, who finished six shots back of his good friend in his sixth place in Malaysia, told me that Oosthuizen would win very soon. "When he's playing his best," Schwartzel said, "he's almost unbeatable."
Back in 2010 when he came out of relative obscurity to win the British Open by seven shots, it was plainly obvious that Oosthuizen had a beautiful golf swing that could stand up to pressure. There are probably not five better swings in the game. But a lot of players have graceful and effortless swings: swings more efficient and technically sound than, for example, the moves of Bubba Watson or Jim Furyk.
Also it's very hard to be convinced that a player has the goods for the long run by one magnificent week.
But over these past two weeks, Oosthuizen has shown a steely resolve and an emotional endurance that could propel him to a regular place on major championship leaderboards.
Ernie Els had been captivating for the past couple of months with his unsuccessful run to qualify for the Masters. The 42-year-old three-time major champion had been a role model and mentor to the younger generation of South African players, of which Oosthuizen and Schwartzel belonged. Els' disappointment must have been eased some by his countrymen's stellar performance at the Masters.
It's likely that Oosthuizen will surpass Els' major win total by the end of his career. He has got the game and the poise and the good fortune of not having to play through Tiger Woods' prime as Els did during his best years. And though Bubba beat him on Easter Sunday with shotmaking that defies the imagination, Oosthuizen with his equanimity and golf swing could have the bigger playing career of the two.
No matter what Bubba, Tiger or Rory McIlroy do in the next several weeks leading up to the U.S. Open at Olympic, Oosthuizen has to be a favorite at the second major. You have to take a guy very seriously who can travel 10,000 miles and through 12 time zones to win an event convincingly after the biggest disappointment of his career.
It was nice to see Colt Knost have a good week at the RBC Heritage. In December, I was at PGA Tour Q-school in La Quinta, Calif., as Knost came off the 18th hole of the Nicklaus Tournament course on the last day of the grueling six-day event. Knost, a former U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, was crying because he thought he had missed getting his tour card after making a double bogey on the par-4 finishing hole.
I felt for the 26-year-old former SMU star because he was fighting for his livelihood. In the end, his 8-under-par total was good enough to get his card for the 2012 PGA Tour season. Everybody who saw him that Monday in front of the scorer's tent felt a sense of relief. If he could make it through those 20 minutes of not knowing if he was playing on the big tour or headed down to the minor leagues of the Nationwide, you knew he would somehow be all right.
At the Heritage, Knost earned his second third-place finish of the year. He started the final round a shot back of the third-round leader Carl Pettersson, but he threw away his chances of winning his first PGA Tour event with a triple bogey at the par-4 third hole. His 3-over-par 74 was his worst round of the week, by five shots.
Still it was a great week for a guy who, for 20 minutes in December, thought he had lost his job with a double bogey on his 108th hole of the week. Now with almost $700,000 in earnings with most of the season in from of him, Knost shouldn't be in that predicament again come the winter.
On Sunday, Major League Baseball celebrated the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson integrating the league in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. All the players and coaches from the league's 30 teams wore Robinson's No. 42. The occasion sparked a reappraisal of the dour prospects of the African-American ballplayer, who accounts for less than 9 percent of all major league baseball players.
Robinson broke into the Dodgers organization 14 years before the Caucasians-only clause was lifted from the PGA of America's bylaws. Robinson was 28 years old in his rookie year. In 1961, Charlie Sifford was 39 years old when he became the first black PGA Tour member.
Robinson played in six World Series. Sifford never played in the Masters because he was black.
Robinson and Sifford were born three years apart immediately after the end of World War I. Over the years, the two men would become friends and bonded over their struggles to integrate their respective sports.
While Sifford has never gotten the worldwide acclaim of Robinson, he was inducted in 2004 into the World Golf Hall of Fame and every year the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles honors his legacy by awarding an exemption to a minority player.
Tiger Woods is the only player of African descent on the PGA Tour, and unless the PGA Tour starts to financially support young minority players it's unlikely that blacks or Hispanics will become a staple on the PGA Tour for the foreseeable future.
The PGA Tour doesn't have to honor Sifford and the other black golfing pioneers with a display during a tournament, but I hope it recognizes that men such as Sifford and Robinson are just as responsible for the growth and survival of American sports as men such as Babe Ruth and Arnold Palmer. Golf wouldn't have seen the growth that it has over the past 20 years if golf courses like Shoal Creek and Augusta National weren't forced to open doors to blacks and other minorities.
MLB knows it wouldn't be what it is today if Branch Rickey hadn't taken a chance on Robinson. That's why the No. 42 was given an exalted place on Sunday. It wasn't simply the right thing to do. It was the only thing to do to bring light to where we've been and where we need to go.
Fit for the course
Since Easter Sunday, it has been hard to think about anything other than Bubba's amazing shot from the trees on the 10th in the second playoff hole in the Masters. Well, everything about Bubba is fascinating: how he does it without a swing coach or a sports psychologists or much thinking, at all.
Bubba plays Bubba golf, which is what he calls his way of using his hands and his body to curve the ball like it's 1986. Since winning the green jacket, Bubba has done the media circuit in New York and played in Tim Tebow's charity golf tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. But he's also been home in Orlando learning how to change the diapers of his new adopted son, Caleb.
He'll defend next week in New Orleans. What kind of player will show up in the Crescent City?
My guess from knowing him since his rookie year is that he'll be the same old Bubba because that's all he knows how to do. He never got the well-heeled polish that makes players boring and robotic and want to change everything that got them to the PGA Tour.
When I first met Bubba at Torrey Pines in 2006, he told me his favorite foods were cheeseburgers and junk food. When I went to visit him a few years ago in Scottsdale, he was eating chicken wraps and sweet potato chips. He told me he hadn't eaten chocolate in more than a year. He's fit now and it showed in the way he played on Easter Sunday at the Masters.
I'll always remember what he told me when I left after our interview that fall day in Scottsdale. "No matter what happens," he said, "I'm always going to be goofy Bubba."
I believe him now more than ever.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.