Alfredsson puts on a talk show LPGA CHAMPIONSHIP Swedish golfer has lively style

June 09, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

There is the baseball cap that has become a trademark. There are the multilingual outbursts, usually directed at errant golf balls. And there is her old college nickname -- "Crazy" -- given by her former coach.

Meet Helen Alfredsson, the polar opposite to every Swedish athlete you can name and, as her performance the past year might suggest, the next big star on the LPGA Tour.

Alfredsson's accomplishments in Europe already have made her recognizable name back home -- she was the 1989 European Tour Rookie of the Year and the 1990 Women's British Open champion -- it took a two-shot victory at this year's Nabisco Dinah Shore to bring her the start of that kind of attention in the United States.

"Really, until she won at Dinah, nobody here knew who she was," said Jay Burton, who represents Alfredsson for the International Management Group.

Alfredsson, the 1992 LPGA Rookie of the Year, has led the infiltration of foreign players into this season's top 10. There are three among the top seven, with Alfredsson No. 5 on the money list at $209,030.

Taking the past three weeks off cost Alfredsson her position as the tour's leading money-winner, but it has helped energize her going into this week's $1 million Mazda LPGA Championship.

The 72-hole tournament at Bethesda Country Club will be an opportunity for Alfredsson to add a major championship to her resume. Alfredsson finished fifth there last year.

"The greatest feeling in the world is to win a tournament," Alfredsson, 28, said last week from Stockholm. "People say it's because of the money, but what I experienced from winning the Dinah wasn't about money. After all, how many things can you buy?"

Instant recognition is certainly not on the list of purchaseable items. Alfredsson's first LPGA Tour victory might have helped her endorsements back home, but it didn't make her a household name in the United States. That, however, long has been a problem in women's golf.

"She can be marketed very well," said Terry O'Flynn, who took over last month as the LPGA's director of marketing. "The nature of her being foreign is sellable. It's one of the hottest things on the block. But I don't think it diminishes a Dottie Mochrie or a Meg Mallon. I think it just helps add to the players we have."

Said Alfredsson: "You have to be able to give a little bit of yourself, to spend time having people get to know you. But it has to come naturally."

Take Alfredsson's quirks on the golf course. She has been wearing baseball caps and talking to golf balls for as long as she can remember. And after finding visors restricting and silence uncomfortable, Alfredsson is not about to change.

She can spout off in Swedish and English -- the more X-rated remarks are usually reserved for her native language -- but the habit has become a bit annoying to some of her competitors. Defending LPGA champion Betsy King wondered aloud at this year's Dinah Shore whether Alfredsson was too emotional for her own good.

"Most Swedish people are very quiet, to themselves," said Alfredsson, who is engaged to Lou Cuellar, former soccer coach at U.S. International. "I am not that way. They think I'm Latin. I say what I feel. You always have one of those [odd] ducks. I tried to play the other way, and I felt like a zombie."

Alfredsson has her admirers among the LPGA establishment. One of her best friends on tour is Amy Alcott, who earned a reputation for doing wacky things, such as being a short-order cook during the off-season or jumping in lakes after big victories and bringing bottles of champagne into the press room to celebrate them. Another is JoAnne Carner, who took one look at Alfredsson and said: "At least there's another one who talks to her balls."

Alfredsson tried to curb her temper at the end of last season, when she finished 16th on the money list, but the sounds of silence did not work for her. She went back to yelling at her ball in the final event of last season at the Mazda Japan Classic, losing in a four-hole playoff to King.

LPGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Where: Bethesda Country Club

When: Pro-am today with 72-hole, sudden-death tournament tomorrow-Sunday

Who: A field of 144 players, including defending champion Betsy King, three-time champion and Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez and LPGA Tour pro Tina Barrett of Baltimore.

Tickets: At the gate, ranging from $5 for practice rounds to $30 for clubhouse pass on Sunday

Parking: Shuttles available from Marriott Headquarters on Democracy Boulevard and across the street from Walter Johnson High School on Rock Spring Drive.

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