A dozen pint-sized autograph seekers followed Nick Faldo from the driving range to the first tee of the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek. Plodding behind them, her ponytail bobbing with every step, was 23-year-old, 5'6" Fanny Sunesson, who was carrying a giant Wilson bag filled with 40 pounds of golf clubs, balls, apples, bananas, granola bars, bottled water, sunscreen and an umbrella.
"Ah declare," one surprised Alabaman said. "Faldo's got himself a guhl caddie."
That he does. And a good one, too. In this, their first year together, Faldo and Sunesson have been one dynamic duo, winning the Masters and British Open and coming within a putt of making the playoff for the U.S. Open title. They've won $700,000 and a zillion hearts, which is why applause for Faldo turns to cheers whenever Sunesson arrives on the scene.
"I get so embarrassed by the attention," says Sunesson, who is from Karlshamn, a small town in southern Sweden. "After all, I'm not the one who's hitting the ball." But she is the only full-time female caddie at the game's top level, and like it or not, she has become one of the game's newest sweethearts.
"Can you believe she can carry that bag all this way in the heat?" one spectator asked during the PGA. "Bless her heart. That's like hauling a four-year-old five miles straight."
Sunesson shrugs. She refuses to consider herself anything out of the ordinary. "It's no big deal," she says. "I'm used to it. I carry on both shoulders, and I'm strong."
And tough. A good caddie has to be. A caddie is part secretary, part coach, part counselor. A caddie watches for problems in the boss's" swing, fetches water, reads greens and suggests which club to hit. It is not a job for the timid or the easily offended. "You can take a lot of verbal abuse out there," says Mike Hicks, who caddies for Payne Stewart. "But you have to take that. It's just part of the job."
Fortunately for Sunesson, Faldo has not had much to complain about since the two teamed up in February. However, she did get a taste of the boss's wrath at the PGA, where Faldo played some of his worst golf ever, shooting a 16th-place 295 that included his third-round, eight-over-par 80.
"Christ, give me the right club," he yelled at her during the second round, after he had hit a five-iron over the green on the par-3 13th. As they walked toward the 14th tee, Sunesson stumbled and fell to the ground. Faldo didn't turn around.
"It was my fault," she said later of the club choice. "I should have given him the six. But you just shrug it off and go on. You can't take the shot or the club choice back. Fortunately, I haven't made too many of those kinds of mistakes."
Or any other mistakes for that matter. Caddies who have worked with Sunesson say she already ranks among the best in the world for staying focused and aware, not only of Faldo but also of his playing partners and what they are doing on the course.
"She's quick to rake sand for someone else or wash someone else's ball," says Freddie Burns, who has caddied for Hal Sutton on and off for 17 years. "But a caddie is only as good as what he does for his boss. For what Fanny does for Nick, I'd rank her an eight on a scale of 10. She is a caddie."
Sunesson broke into the caddie business 3½ years ago when she decided she wanted a close look at the game as it is played at the top level. "I wanted inside the ropes," she said. "I wanted to learn some shots, see how the really good golfers played this game."
The daughter of avid golfers, she found her-sell with a club in her hands when she was seven but didn't start playing until she was 15, when she fell in love with the game. She played as often as she could and by the time she was 17 was a strong amateur player. Because Swedish television didn't carry much golf, she grew up not knowing who the top players were. She had heard of Palmer and Nicklaus, but, to her, they were a world away. She never dreamed she would be walking the same course with them.
Sunesson worked her handicap down to a five, but her interest wasn't sufficient to carry her much further. In 1986 she decided to try caddying. She went to a tournament in Stockholm where she pestered a number of pros for a job, finally persuading Jaime Gonzalez, a European tour player from Brazil, to hire her for the week. She was hooked on caddying.
"Until Jaime, I tried to get hired by everyone and anyone," she says. "But they all thought I didn't know anything because I'm a girl. Once they saw me work, though, they caught on that I did know what I was doing."
Last season she finally hired on with England's Howard Clark on a steady basis. Clark was paired with Faldo several times during the year, and it was then that her work caught Faldo's eye. She was "completely shocked," she says when Faldo spoke to her in Australia last December about coming to work for him.
Faldo, it turned out, was looking for someone to boost his mental game. For years he had worked with Andy Prodger, regarded as one of the best caddies in the business. Together, Faldo and Prodger won the 1987 British Open and the 1989 Masters. But Faldo grew unhappy with Prodger's quiet, laid-back style.
"Andy Prodger is the best caddie in the world," says Hicks. "But Nick needed more. Once he said, 'How many bogeys do I have to make before you say something?' Fanny has been very good for Nick. She is positive, upbeat and very encouraging."
Faldo says Sunesson keeps him motivated. The two chatter between shots. She often reminds him when he's on the tee to keep his tempo down, and on the green to keep his head still. "She's keen on working hard," Faldo says. "She makes very few mistakes, and that is what makes a good team. She has done a very good job."
Faldo and Sunesson's first tournament was the Skins Game in Australia in February. It wasn't long before the British tabloids took hold of the relationship and predictably blew it into a major scandal, NICK'S CHICK read one headline. It was reported that Faldo had left his wife, Gill, and had taken up with Sunesson. It so incensed Sunesson, who is close to Gill as well as to Nick, that she stopped talking to reporters and is still reluctant to grant interviews. "She and Nick have both been burned," says John Simpson, Faldo's agent. "They don't need that."
Sunesson, however, refused to be intimidated on the golf course. She was nervous before her first tournament with Faldo, but that soon subsided and her confidence grew. The big boost was the Masters in April, which Faldo won on the second hole of a playoff with Raymond Floyd.
And when he won the British in July, Faldo thanked "good ol' Fanny" on the victory stand, much to the delight of the crowd. With a hefty lead through most of the final round, Faldo's greatest concern had been losing it. Sunesson stepped in and kept him relaxed, asking him as they walked the fairways about his new house, whether he would buy a new dog, what his plans for the winter were.
"He has to answer," she says. "He's too nice not to."
When it was over, he planted a big kiss on her cheek and pledged to make good on his promise to take her dancing if he won the tournament. "He hasn't done it yet," Sunesson says, her blue eyes twinkling. "But I expect he will sometime."
Not everyone is a Fanny fan. Some of the caddies on the Tour are resentful of her success and the attention she gets. They say anyone could carry for Faldo—he doesn't need a caddie's help, they argue—and Sunesson hasn't really paid her dues.
But others, like Burns, welcome her to the ranks. "I told her today I hope we'll work together again," he said. "I meant it. The other guys may be intimidated a little, but I'm not. They're just a bit jealous."
If she chooses to, Sunesson can be a caddie for a long time. She has been working on her own game a little—she won a pro-am tournament two weeks ago in Sweden—and hopes to stay in some part of the golf business when she retires from carrying clubs.
She's aware that there aren't many women in her field but refuses to exploit her novelty. She wants to be considered a good caddie—nothing more, nothing less. "I just try to do my best," she says. "Help who I'm working for as much as I can. This year has been such a thrill. Tremendous. I'm a very lucky girl."