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Eccentric Sandelin fitting in with the team game

Jarmo Sandelin has left the crocodile-skin shoes, the $6,000 jacket and the formfitting, see-through shirts at home. He has trimmed his absurdly long 52-inch driver down to a merely ridiculous 50 inches.

After all, the 32-year-old Ryder Cup rookie is at The Country Club this week to play for the European team, not to widen his repute as the continent's most eccentric new star.

"I don't want to get press for my personality. I want to get press for my golf shots," he said after a practice round in which his more subdued self made a debut. "I'm a team player now, and I like it."

A Finnish-born naturalised Swede who lives in Monte Carlo, Sandelin is a European team all by himself. But before this Ryder Cup, his name was most often mentioned -- or cursed, depending on who was doing the talking -- in connection with his idiosyncrasies.

He was known for using an exceptionally long driver -- 45 inches is more the norm. And he was known for his clothes: Tuesday's belt, an indescribable tangle of stones, silver and snakeskin, cost him $1,500. (He ordered another one from the same Italian designer for more than $2,000.)

"I'm so happy that I collect belts and not cars," he said. "They're less expensive, and I always have them with me."

Asked if Sandelin was fitting in with the team despite being a bit eccentric, European captain Mark James took exception to the premise.

"I wouldn't say Jarmo is a bit eccentric," he said, "I think he's very eccentric.

"But we have a lot of eccentric people in Europe, and we're very used to them. Jarmo fits in great. He's a good, fun guy to be around," James said. "We understand him. Simple as that."

Maybe now. But not always.

Mark O'Meara and Sandelin had words at the Lancome Trophy in 1997 when he accused the American of improperly marking his ball and called him "Mark-It-Nearer." Mickelson got upset at the Dunhill Cup in '96 when Sandelin, after holing a putt, used his club as a mock machine gun to finish off the ball.

In last year's Lancome Trophy, Sandelin's current Ryder Cup teammate Lee Westwood accused him of hitting a ball while it was moving. All of which combined to give Sandelin a reputation as a jerk -- and a peculiar one, at that.

"I don't see myself that way," Sandelin said. "It's like it's another Jarmo they're talking about."

Jesper Parnevik -- Sandelin's teammate, countryman and a fellow oddball -- says the clashes are a misunderstanding, a combination of innocent exuberance and Sandelin's inefficiency with the English language.

"It must be something about the fertiliser they use on the Swedish golf courses," said Parnevik, who is perhaps best known for wearing his cap with the bill flipped up but has somehow become the second-strangest Swede on the European team.

Having earned his share of quizzical looks, Parnevik is happy to help Sandelin avoid the burdens of being bizarre.

"When Jarmo has to explain himself, he can't really get the words out the right way," Parnevik said. "He's very outgoing. He's a very fun character on the golf course. He likes to show a good time. But his intentions are always good.

"If you don't know Jarmo and you see him doing funny things, you think, 'Who is this crazy guy?"' Parnevik said. "But you see him do it a few times and you realise he's just a funny guy."

And you see him make a couple of shots, and you realise that there's more to Sandelin than wacky antics. He has won twice this year on the European tour, in the Spanish and German Opens, ranking eighth on the European points list to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

"He's won two tournaments. I haven't won any tournaments," said O'Meara, who spoke with Sandelin at a dinner Tuesday night and said the conversation was "very cordial."

"I have no issue with Jarmo Sandelin. ... This is not any grudge match or this or that," O'Meara said. "(If I'm) paired against Jarmo, that isn't going to change my demeanour. ... I've got to try to do what I do best. And, hopefully, I'll do that well."

Sandelin agreed that his antics are easily misunderstood; the machine gun incident, for example, was something he saw in an Adam Sandler movie. But he doesn't think a total makeover is in order, either.

"I can't change it if people judge my personality based on how I dress, or how I react when I make putts," he said. "I'm glad I'm an individual. We have to have individuals that are different. Otherwise, I don't think the world would go."