Friday 19 April 2019

Paul Kimmage meets Fanny Sunesson - 'I'm a caddie. I'm not a woman caddie, I'm a caddie'

Fanny Sunneson. Photo: Getty
Fanny Sunneson. Photo: Getty
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

A roomful of reporters waited to hear what Ken Green had to say after his round, which went up and down like some of the greens at Augusta National. The first thing he told them was: "I am not an unknown. Everybody in Connecticut and my family knows me. I also have colour. I want you to write that."

Then he talked about all the "no-brainers", meaning long putts, he sank and how his sister, Shelly, gets more ink than he does. "She's had seven interviews this week, and this is my first," he said. Shelly has gotten a lot of ink here this week because she is her brother's caddie. A woman carrying clubs is about as common at Augusta National as a member wearing a red jacket.

Los Angeles Times,

April 11, 1986

Twenty-nine years ago. She leaves her motel on Washington Road and walks for 30 minutes until she reaches the gate. A Pinkerton guard with a clipboard is eyeing her curiously:

"You say you're a caddie?"

"Yes."

"For Nick Faldo?"

"Yes."

"You're not on the list."

Only three women had ever caddied at the Masters. In 1983 - the first-year players were given the option of using their own caddies - George Archer had finished in a tie for 12th, with his daughter, Elizabeth. In 1986, Ken Green had faded from a bright start to finish 44th, with his sister, Shelly. And in 1988, Mark Calcavecchia had almost won the tournament with his wife, Sheryl, on the bag.

The fourth woman to caddie at the Masters is different. She isn't married or related to Nick Faldo and does not have a clubhouse badge or pass for Magnolia Lane. So it's easy to understand the Pinkerton's confusion.

"Can you repeat that please?"

"Fanny Sunesson."

"Soonuson?"

"S-U-N-E-S-S-O-N."

"Sorry, you're not on the list."

But a week later, everyone will know her name.

Fanny.

It almost caused a riot in Gothenburg when she was born. Her grandmother was a Fanny and her parents, Bo and Stina, had always loved the name but their friends were aghast: "YOU CAN'T CALL HER FANNY!"

But Fanny it was.

That it was different suited her, because she has always felt different. As a kid, when her friends were playing curling and learning how to sew, she was out selling newspapers and doing leaflet drops. Obsessive and driven, she didn't care much for girly stuff and then, at age 13, Bo introduced her to golf and she was completely smitten.

"I loved everything about it," she says. "I loved being outside; I loved hitting balls. I practised all day. I got down to a five handicap and played on a Swedish 'observation' team - just below the national team."

If she had been told back then, as she was blistering her hands on the range, that she would win four Majors and reach the summit of her sport, she might not have been surprised: 'Look at how hard I work.' But as a caddie? No, that was something she would never have imagined.

It started in Ullna at the Scandinavian Open in 1986. She had been mulling over a golf scholarship in Texas at the time and decided she could learn a lot from a week inside the ropes with the pros. First she had to pick up a bag.

For two days, she stood outside the clubhouse, watching as another available job was offered to another guy in the line. The scar would never leave her.

It's because I'm a girl! They think I can't caddie because I'm a girl!

Then a mild-mannered journeyman from Brazil called Jaime Gonzalez decided to take a chance.

"He was very funny and easy to club," she says. "A six-iron for me was a seven-iron for him so it was an easy start. And I enjoyed it because I was involved in the game, and they (the pros) had so many shots."

A week later, she skipped her club championship to caddie for Gonzalez in Malmo, then she bought a one-month rail ticket to Spain and Portugal for the final tournaments of the year. "There was no conscious decision that this would be my career," she says. "I just took a turn in the road and kept walking."

In the two years that followed she caddied for 13 players. It was a life of fast food, cheap rooms and late-night rail rides but she was making a living and her profile was starting to rise. She had discovered winning with Jose Rivero and the Ryder Cup with Howard Clark, and then the best golfer in the world offered her a job.

"We were in Melbourne at the end of the year (1989)," she says. "I'd been out with a few of the players and caddies to a Eurythmics concert and Nick was standing in the lobby when we returned to the hotel. We had played with him a couple of times but I didn't really know him. It was just the usual: 'Where have you come from? How have you been playing?' and stuff like that.

"He said he was thinking of changing caddie and that he wanted to talk to me later in the week. I ran back to my hotel and phoned Mum and Dad. I was so excited. I couldn't believe I was going to work for the world number one. The hardest part was telling Howard but he was great: 'You've no choice,' he said. 'You've got to go.'"

A month later she flew to London for a session on the range. "He asked me to eyeball (judge the distance) a flag for him. I'm terrible at eyeballing and was nervous but I guess I did okay. I think one of the reasons we worked so well is that we complemented each other. We thought alike. He's shy and I'm shy. He didn't drink much and I didn't drink. And he knew I would always give 100 per cent."

Their first season together began in February 1990 with a ninth place finish (behind Eamonn Darcy) at the Dubai Desert Classic. A month later, they finished 13th in Florida and 15th in Texas before travelling to Georgia for the Masters, where Faldo was the defending champion.

It was Fanny's first visit to Augusta.

"My name wasn't on the caddie list and there was a lot of hassle before it was cleared. I went to the old caddie shack and it was just one big room with a dirt floor.

"I said, 'Where's the rest rooms?' and they gave me a funny look. There were four toilets there and not one of them had a door! I thought 'I'm not going here.'

"I got my uniform (boiler suit) and went to meet Nick on the range and the balls were in these cloth bags with the Augusta logo. Then I dipped the towel (to clean the clubs) and there was hot water in the buckets! I had never seen that before. The difference between Augusta and other courses was much greater back then. It was just immaculate."

Five days later, Nick Faldo became only the second person to win back-to-back Masters titles. Fanny Sunesson - the first woman caddie to win a Major - was 22. "I was so happy I cried," she says. "It was just this amazing, exhilarating feeling. I couldn't believe it."

But they were only getting started.

Two months later they finished third at the US Open. A month after that, they travelled to St Andrews and Faldo won his second Claret Jug. Over the next decade they became one of sport's great double acts, and when people asked what it was like being a woman in a man's world Fanny would simply shrug her shoulders.

"Okay, so I'm a woman but when it comes to my job I'm a caddie. I'm not a woman caddie, I'm a caddie, doing exactly the same things as the guys. I am one of the guys."

But that was never true.

Five days ago. It's a warm and clammy evening at Augusta and the only female caddie to win a Major, and the only female caddie at the Masters, has kicked off her shoes after a long day on the golf course and is reflecting on a question she has rarely been asked.

"Who am I?"

"Yeah."

"That's tough."

"Give it a go."

"I'm probably not the person people think I am."

"Is anyone?"

"No but . . . I always thought that if someone got to know me for real they wouldn't like me."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"You have low self-esteem?"

"Yeah."

"Where does that come from?"

"I don't know."

"You do know."

"No, I don't understand why I am like I am. I've thought about it a lot but I don't 'get' myself . . . It's a good question, but you're not getting a good answer."

The month is July, 1990. She is sitting on a golf bag on the 18th green at St Andrews after the final round of the Open. Nick Faldo has been presented with the trophy and thanked his caddie in the speech and now the crowd are cheering her name:

'FANNY.'

'FANNY.'

'FANNY.'

Then Faldo walks over and hands her the Claret Jug and when she lifts it to the crowd, the lightning shooting through her body is like nothing she has felt before, and nothing she has felt since.

'They think I can't caddie because I'm a girl.'

The word is validation.

She wins another two Majors with Faldo and they share several great wins, and 22 years later, when her back finally caves in, she's worked with some of the best players in the game and become the most famous caddie in the world. She starts coaching and returns to the Masters with Swedish TV but there's an itch she cannot scratch. A hole she cannot fill.

"All I did was work," she says. "I didn't have a life. I was successful. I was brilliant at my jobs - coaching, caddying, setting up golf courses . . . but no one loved me. The things that made me good at work made me bad in relationships. That's completely how I saw it - successful here and a failure here."

It was time to take stock.

She started playing padel (a racquet sport) and spending more time with friends. She met a guy who makes her glow. She got an offer from Henrik Stenson to caddie at the Masters. She has a life. It has rarely felt better. "I haven't missed it but I'm thoroughly enjoying it," she says. "I think I really appreciate it now."

Two days ago. The only female caddie to have won a Major, and the only woman in the caddie Hall of Fame, is standing on the range after the first round of the Masters. She has some stories to tell, this girl. She was there in '92 when Faldo won the Open at Muirfield. She was there in '95 when he played that wedge at Oak Hill.

She was there in '96, a pallbearer in the death march of Norman at the Masters. And she was there in '97, during those two opening rounds, when the mantle of greatness passed to Tiger Woods. She was there. She was there. She was there.

She is here.

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