Golfers keep Swedish culture close

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    Even for folks living in the United States, Fort Worth can be a bit of a culture shock.

    But the Tex-Mex, purple margaritas and country music are especially far removed from the tastes and sounds of European countries. 

    For this reason, head golf coach Bill Montigel recruited a pair of athletes from the same country: Sweden.

    Daniel Jennevret and Pontus Gad played for the Swedish National Team in the 2008 European Boys Team Championship. 

    Montigel approached Jennevret and Gad after the tournament in Slovenia. 

    Jennevret finished fourth overall at the 2008 European Boys Team Championship, and Gad finished the tournament in fifth place..

    Playing for the national team meant attracting offers from U.S. colleges. Jennevret, who ranked No. 12 out of the 64 top-tier golfers, received offers from the University of Central Florida, Duke University and a handful of other schools. 

    Gad spoke with Arizona State University, the University of Arkansas and Oklahoma State University, which has been ranked No. 1 among college golf programs, according to golf.com, a division of Sports Illustrated.

    Jennevret and Gad chose TCU.

    And later that year, Montigel announced that the pair had signed on with TCU for the 2009-10 season.

    Montigel’s visits to Sweden assured the parents of Jennevret and Gad that TCU was a good fit, and he said he thought Gad and Jennevret would be a support to one another during their first year at the university.

    But feeling at home at a university the size of your hometown can be a difficult task, Jennevret said.

    Playing golf at an American university was something that Gad and Jennevret had wanted to do since they attended high school. 

    But the journey took time.

    Gad’s parents took up golf as a hobby when he was 9 years old. Gad and his younger sister followed their parents around the golf course, occasionally swinging at a golf ball, Eva, Gad’s mother, said.

    “We didn’t push him to start golf,” she said. “From the time he was little, Pontus just enjoyed playing golf.”

    Gad’s interest in golf grew from a few casual swings to hours dedicated to practice. Gad began riding his bike to and from a local golf course, his father, Mihael, said.

    For Jennevret, his passion began as early as 8 years old after playing golf with his father, Jennevret’s mother, Monica, said.

    And by the time Jennevret was 11 years old, he began showing up in the SGF, or the Svenska Golfförbundet, a national ranking system, according to golfdata.se, a website listing the ranks of top-tier Swedish golfers.

    Prime golf weather is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, according to golf.com, which makes golf a challenging sport in a country whose average temperatures in July hover around 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Sweden, which is about the size of California, has climate patterns ranging from subarctic in the north to mild in the south. Daylight can last up to 18 hours in the summer months, thus earning the name, “land of the midnight sun.” But in the winter, the days grow shorter. At its darkest point, in late December, the sun shines for about six hours. 

    “But nobody just plays golf,” Jennevret said.

    Indoor sports such as squash, a sport comparable to racquetball, kept Jennevret, who played on the Swedish national squash team, active during the dark winter months. Other athletes, like Gad, prefer to play bandy, a sport comparable to ice hockey, at the public outdoor ice skating rinks.

    As the time to leave for college drew near, Gad began spending winters in Spain and Portugal for up to seven weeks at a time, he said.

    Even though both golfers worked hard to start their careers at TCU, it was a difficult transition — and it was not the weather that took the most getting used to, Jennevret said.

    As freshmen, Jennevret and Gad struggled with the American language barrier. Although people in Sweden begin learning English at an early age, it is still a second language. When golfers shank a shot, the last thing they want to do is struggle to express their frustration.

    “Just to be able to scream or cuss in Swedish,” Jennevret said. “It feels so much better than trying to explain yourself in another language.”

    Now, juniors, Gad and Jennevret speak fluent, precise English. Gad has begun to speak English so well that his mother, Eva, noticed a slight American accent when he came home in December.

    But the pair can still be heard going back and forth in Swedish during matches, Montigel said.

    Despite feeling somewhat “Americanized,” Pontus and Gad said they felt a strong connection to their home country.

    And although Sweden is perhaps best known to Americans for its resilient neutrality, tasty meatballs and IKEA, Gad said, home will always be home.

    Things they miss:

    •Swedish candy. American candy lacks variety. According to Ingridscandyshop.com, an online Swedish candy store, there are 66 different types of candy. These colorful candies are available at most grocery stores in Sweden, Gad said.

    •Music. Although they have come to appreciate the acoustic melodies of the Zac Brown Band, the pair both prefer listening to a mix of house music and alternative music. Their favorites include Swedish House Mafia and Avicii.

    •Fashion. As the home of Hennes & Mauritz, better known as H&M, Sweden takes pride in its refined clothing styles, according to Sweden.se, a government-funded website about Sweden. Gad and Jennevret noticed that fashion and class do not always mix at TCU. 

    •Home-cooked meals. Gad enjoys his mother’s lasagna. While Jennevret prefers homemade “Swedish” meatballs. According to a statement from the Minister for Rural Affairs, Sweden’s food tastes best because of it’s commitment to safe and environmentally friendly food production. Gad and Jennevret agree that something is different back home. No matter how much they eat for dinner, there is always a reason to rummage around in the fridge for more food.