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Jacobson Talks About Getting His Start In Golf

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Growing up in Sweden, Freddie Jacobson started out in the conventional, popular sports: hockey and soccer.

"I was a right winger in hockey, but I didn't have a big enough shot," said the 2011 Travelers Championship winner. "I loved the team thing when you and your hockey and soccer teams did well. But sometimes you might have a lousy game and your team won or you had a good game and your team lost.

"That was the beauty about golf. Everything was dependent on you."

Jacobson put away his hockey stick and the soccer ball on the competitive level when he was 13. "I had dreamed of being a professional in a sport since I was 6," he said. "But, it wasn't going to be in hockey or soccer."

He'd take his best swing at golf.

Jacobson reflected on his early years during the Travelers Championship media day last month.

He said golf started for him when Per Nellbeck, a friend of Jacobson's father, gave his entire family a golf lesson. "I was 10 and not very good," Jacobson said. "But I loved being able to practice the shots, and with the long summer light I could be out there until 10 or 11 at night."

Jacobson improved quickly. After starting with a handicap of 40, he was a scratch player when he was 15. He won 13 amateur tournaments in Sweden two years later.

Professional golf was next.

He won three times on the European Tour in 2003 and finished third in PGA Tour non-member earnings with $786,771, with four top-10 finishes. He joined the tour because he had finished among the top 125 in earnings as a non-member.

"I wasn't the first; there had been other Swedes who were playing in the U.S. then, like Jesper Parnavik," Jacobson said.

Jacobson, the seventh native of Sweden to win a PGA Tour event, said Swedes are very proud of their sports heritage. "My idols were Bjorn Borg in tennis and Ingemar Stenmark in skiing," he said.

Borg was known for his stoicism and lethal two-handed backhand in winning 11 Grand Slam singles titles.

Jacobson displayed a similar focus and determination last year in winning at TPC River Highlands. He was brilliantly consistent and had a streak of 66 consecutive holes without a bogey. (His last one was at the 15th at Congressional CC-Bethesda, Md., the previous Sunday in the U.S. Open.)

That streak ended with a bogey at the par-4 10th the final Sunday of the Travelers Championship. It was his only bogey of the tournament.

The 10th didn't disrupt Jacobson's quest. He was 2-under par over the final eight holes.

"I stayed in the moment; I didn't know where I stood until probably my second shot at 18," Jacobson said. "I knew it was tight from the crowd, with all that cheering at the pond. I figuredRyan [Moore] was making a charge."

Moore had birdied 17, but bogeyed the 18th to fall back into a tie for second place with John Rollins.

After hitting the fairway with his drive at the 72nd hole, Jacobson said, he picked a target 2 to 3 yards left of the flag. His approach shot stopped 14 feet below the hole. "I still couldn't relax," he said.

He two-putted for his first tour victory, raised both arms and then did it quickly again. His daughter Emmie could celebrate.

Daddy won for the first time on the PGA Tour.

Jacobson recalled that his family had watched the FedEx Cup Championship the previous year in their home in Hobe Sound, Fla., when all the winners on tour were shown.

"When they had the recap after the final event, and everybody was just hoisting trophies left and right," Jacobson said after winning in Cromwell last year. "And sitting there with my kids, and you know, my middle one, Emmie, [6], she goes, 'Daddy, why don't you have trophies [at] home?'"

She doesn't have to ask anymore.

Last month Jacobson, 37, looked out a clubhouse window across TPC River Highlands. He couldn't stop smiling. "Coming here brings it all back," he said.

The satisfaction of his victory prompted him to reflect on his sports roots, which included table tennis. He was ranked in the top 30 in Swedish table tennis at age 14-15. Today he's considered the best pro golfer/table tennis player in the world. At the Travelers Championship media day he received an engraved traveling case with a Killerspin paddle and three top-flight balls from Andy Bessette, Travelers executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

"Tennis, table tennis, skiing, hockey, soccer and golf are popular in Sweden," said Jacobson, who still often goes back to Sweden during the year. "I remember with Stenmark [winner of eight Olympic medals, including five gold, in the slalom and giant slalom] — I was a big fan — when he was in the starting gate in a World Cup race or in the Olympics, the country would stop.

"Everyone, no matter who you were, stopped what they were doing and watched him on TV."

Jacobson shook his head when asked if his victory in the Travelers Championship that ended after midnight in Sweden was watched by the nation.

"I don't think so," he said.

Jacobson is back at work this year after a sprain that required his right thumb to be in a cast for a month late last year.

He missed almost the first two months of this season. But he has bounced back. He has four top 20 finishes, including a tie for 13th at the Northern Trust Open and a tie for 19th at the Masters.

"My game isn't where I want it to be," Jacobson said. "But I'll get to the range, work at it and keep trying."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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