After 20 years, it's definitely her bag

 

John O'Sullivan meets Fanny Sunesson and finds her refreshingly untainted by success

In muscling her way into the male-dominated, testosterone filled, tantrum drenched fairways of the pampered professional golfer, Fanny Sunesson remains refreshingly untainted; unaffected by success and by being immersed in that culture for the last 19 years.

During that time she became one of the best caddies in the world, the only woman on whom that accolade - she was inaugurated into the Caddies' Hall of Fame in 2003 - is bestowed in a line of work that is largely a male preserve.

She fought prejudice and refused to be cowed by her environment. She is perhaps best celebrated for her collaboration with Nick Faldo, a partnership that lasted 10 years initially with a two-year epilogue after a brief hiatus. The Englishman won two British Open Championships (1990, 1992), a brace of US Masters titles (1990, 1996) and was the number one player in the sport with Sunesson on the bag.

She also took part in five Ryder Cups - four with Faldo - and has been on the bag for Jamie Gonzalez, Jose Rivero, Anders Forsbrand, Howard Clark, Sergio Garcia, Fred Funk, Notah Begay, Michelle Wie, Ian Poulter, Zach Johnson and her current employer, Australian Mark Hensby.

She is now semi-retired, her time split between working periodically for Hensby and coaching the German national women's team. She's in Dublin to promote Ulster Bank's offer of free admission on the Thursday of the Smurfit Kappa European Open at the K Club, persuaded in part probably by the bank's decision to sponsor a marquee for the second year in succession for the caddies at the K Club.

Her introduction to the game was as a six-year-old in her native Sweden and by the time she was a teenager she had her heart set on being a professional golfer. A chance meeting with Bernhard Langer's 'porter' Pete Coleman at a European Tour event was to provide a seminal moment in her career path.

"He talked to me a little bit about being a caddie and I thought it sounded pretty good, so came up with the idea of being a local caddie for the next year. That was (almost) 20 years ago. There weren't many professional caddies.

"Being Swedish and all very orderly, all the local caddies were standing in a long line when the bus arrived with all the players. The first caddie would approach a player and say, 'excuse me, sir but do you want a caddie?' The player would say 'yes' and they (the caddie) would take the bag and go.

"Then it came to my turn and I was so excited. I said to the player, 'do you want a caddie.' 'No I already have someone.' Then he went to the next caddie in line and said: 'do you want to caddie for me?' I couldn't believe it. The next player comes and the same thing happened. There were only three caddies left and they were three girls.

"The girls? There was me, Charlotta Sorenstam and Annika Sorenstam. We've all done alright," she laughed. "I was 18. They just looked at me, thought that I was a girl (and reasoned that) a girl didn't know anything about golf. The fact that I had a five handicap and all I did was play golf, didn't matter. In the end there were three players left and I got one of them: Jamie Gonzalez from Brazil.

"Jamie was a great character and good fun. He involved me, asking me what club to use. I knew that, standing over a shot, if it was a seven for me then it would be an eight iron for him. He involved me and I loved it."

Sunesson was hooked. She caddied for Gonzalez at a tournament in Sweden the following week and he then asked her to travel to the British Open, which she did taking out an inter-rail card for a month. Although she desperately wanted to continue the partnership in Spain and Portugal, he already had a caddie for those events. She found someone else.

"I thought I'd do it for a year to travel and then come back and get a job. Twenty years later I'm still doing it."

A caddie needs an extensive range of qualities many of which don't appear on the job description. "You have to do a lot of things. You're there all the time with your player; when he practices, when he plays, through the ups and downs. I have got to know the golf course and that's my main boring bit. I go the day before the tournament arrives and I'll reccie the course doing my own yardage book.

"It takes between five and eight hours to do 18 holes. You have to be a sports psychologist, say the right thing at the right time and be quiet on other occasions. That's probably one of the toughest things. You have to look after their every need (in that work environment). I try and stand in the player's shoes. I'll just use common sense. What would I want?

"I want to be there for my player before he needs something. I want to do something he needs before he needs it. I try to make him drink so that he doesn't get thirsty, I try to have him eat before he needs the food."

The relationship has been likened to a marriage. Sunesson spent 10 hours a day with Faldo, becoming involved with his swing and also strategy out on the course, albeit in a subtle way in the latter regard. She pointed out that some players might only see the one option so her responsibility was sometimes to steer him in another direction.

Given the hissy fits that afflict most golfers on occasion, it's not a surprise to learn that a few of the professional species are right up there with the best club throwers. "One player who shall remain nameless, got very angry on the course and he called me every word that you can think about. This (particular) day it was 'silly cow' which was quite nice compared to others.

"(He said) You are so stupid, the most stupid person in the world. I said well, 'if I am stupid what does that make you?' You employed me and keep me on the bag. He laughed and that was it, over: he wasn't angry any more."

Into every life a little rain must fall and Sunesson's was no exception. She was chuffed when Jose Rivero made the 1987 European Ryder Cup team. She had caddied for him all year and couldn't wait to carry a bag at a tournament she loves. In those days as now, the caddies were cosseted when it came to the Ryder Cup, their every need catered for including travel and accommodation.

Unfortunately Jose thought this would be the ideal moment to have one of his brothers caddie that week for him. Sunesson was devastated. "I had just turned 20 and it was the biggest thing in my life (at that time).

"I actually caddied in Hoylake in a small tournament, watched the Ryder Cup on television and cried a lot. They (Europe) won and I was even more upset. It was the Dunhill Cup the following week, a tournament I wanted to see but the week after that I left him (Rivero)."

After working with Anders Forsbrand she joined up with Howard Clark, making her Ryder Cup debut with the latter in 1989. Sunesson has another reason to recall the occasion thanks to the thoughtfulness of the Englishman. She had saved up to buy a gold watch in Switzerland but couldn't afford the gold clasp.

On the pretext of buying a similar one for his wife, Clark went off and returned with the watch, with one minor alteration: the gold clasp.

The Ryder Cup is a completely different environment for the caddies, one where they are made to feel welcome and very much part of the team but if Sunesson was asked for one memory it would be being on the bag for Faldo when he won the British Open at St Andrews.

The memory of her initial visit to Augusta National is a moment she recalls with humour and charm. "The first time I went there was 1990. I had a call of nature and needed the bathroom. I went to the caddie shack. We weren't allowed in the clubhouse. We wear painter's outfits which are made for men, no allowance for hips so I had size 50 with the crotch hanging down. Lovely.

"I walked in and out several times and thought this can't be right. There were four toilets with no doors. This isn't working for me. Now they have a new caddie shack and I have my own room."

All the stories - there are plenty more - are told in a matter of fact manner, shrouded in a smile. In mimicking the doctor-patient confidentiality clause, she doesn't tell tales out of school but in one final story offers an insight into the innate professionalism she has brought to the role of the caddie.

"I have nightmares about it. I have this (recurring) dream where I'm standing on the first tee with my player and the (golf) bag. I have 35 clubs in the bag and we have two minutes (to our starting time). As I am taking them (the clubs) out they pop back like mushrooms and I just can't get rid of them. It's horrible."

Entry tickets for the Free Ticket Thursday are open to anyone over the age of 16 and available through any Ulster Bank branch throughout the country or by logging on to: www.ulsterbankgolf.ie.