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Archive for Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Parnevik’s life changed on 9-11

Swedish golfer was in New York for photo shoot when events transpired

September 11, 2002

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Jesper Parnevik's golf game is in sad shape with the Ryder Cup quickly approaching, although he's making progress in other areas.

At least he can sleep through the night without fear.

He no longer wakes up in major cities wondering if the skyline has changed, or panics when he sees a car that looks out of place stop in front of a hotel.

"It's very hard to explain," said Parnevik, who was in New York for a photo shoot on Sept. 11. "You know that feeling you have when there's really bad turbulence on a plane? That's how it was all the time."

Yes, the Ryder Cup will be different. The matches were postponed one year because of the terrorist attacks, and several players on both teams are not in great form. U.S. captain Curtis Strange says no Ryder Cup ever has the best 12 guys at the time, and playing with the 2001 team will be a reminder why the matches were postponed in the first place.

Not that Parnevik needs one.

He had spent Sept. 10 with Johan Lindeberg, the Swedish fashion designer responsible for Parnevik dressing like a Popsicle. The next morning, he was eating breakfast in a midtown hotel when his cell phone rang.

"The first plane had hit the tower," he said. "Nobody even moved in the hotel. It was like nothing had happened. Everyone started discussing it. 'How can you do that? How can you miscalculate the altitude by that much?'

"Then we got the second call, and then ... it was a different atmosphere."

The rest of the day was a blur.

Parnevik went up to his room to watch the news, and when he realized what had happened, he left everything behind and began running north toward Central Park, trying to avoid tall buildings, not sure if the terrorists had another target in mind.

He saw a white cloud filling the streets. With so much smoke and debris in the air, Parnevik had no idea the Twin Towers collapsed until he found a haven at an IMG office.

"That's when it got really weird," he said. "You see it on TV, then you step outside and see all the smoke and all the people."

Parnevik was stuck in New York for three days. Paranoia set in. There were rumors of another attack, maybe a big truck full of explosives.

"Your mind goes crazy," he said. "You think a bomb is going to go off in any corner. Until then, I had never been scared for my life. Ever."

Parnevik took a cab to Philadelphia when the bridges and tunnels finally opened, then decided to rent a car and drive home to south Florida to be with his wife and four children. His father, Sweden's most famous comedian, wanted him to leave the United States.

He stayed, but it wasn't easy.

"When I got home, the shocking realization of what happened kicked in," he said. "I couldn't sleep for months. I remember staying in Las Vegas, it was almost to the point I was sure something was going to happen. I was just happy to wake up every morning and see that all the skyscrapers still were there.

"Every time I saw an airplane, or I saw a strange car pull up to the hotel, I said, 'Who's that? What's going on?' It affected me for quite a while."

Parnevik loves his second home in Jupiter, Fla. He always jokes that the reason he flips up the bill of his cap is so the rest of his face can get a tan. He named his son Phoenix, because his first PGA Tour victory came at the Phoenix Open.

What he lost on Sept. 11 was the same sense of security he felt in Sweden.

"I could not imagine living in a country like Israel or Palestine, where this goes on every day, where you cannot go to a restaurant or a movie and know you're going to walk out of there alive," he said.

When the PGA Tour staged a tribute two weeks after the attacks, Parnevik joined U.S. Ryder Cup members David Toms and Hal Sutton on the stage in San Antonio.

Even though he grew up in Sweden, he said he never felt more American.

"The thing that hit me the most emotionally was how the firefighters, the policemen and the whole city of New York came together like nothing I've ever seen before," he said that night at Fiesta Texas.

Parnevik plans to be home today, watching television coverage of the one-year anniversary with his family. He leaves for the Ryder Cup the following week.

The matches won't have the best 12 players on either side.

Big deal.

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