He is recognisable immediately for his unmistakeable sign of identity: a simple but brightly-coloured hat. At 38 Peter Gustafsson has temporarily retired from top competition to dedicate his career to an internal marketing portal on golf and travel. He does, however, plan to return to the adrenalin of tournament play and has set himself a challenge achieved by very few professionals: playing on the world’s main circuit, the US PGA Tour, of course.
Even though his brilliant 2005 season is now in the distant past – the year he made his debut on the European Tour, finished second twice and was close to being named rookie of the year – it is true that Gustafsson, born in Orust, still believes he can regain his top form of those times and once again aspire to success in the competitive world of golf.
Peter lives in Marbella, in the Nueva Andalucía area and its Golf Valley, home to such iconic courses as Aloha, Los Naranjos and Las Brisas, the latter host of two World Cups – the first in 1973, when Jack Nicklaus and Johnnie Miler beat other international stars including South Africa’s Gary Player and Hugh Baiocchi.
- When did you come to the Costa del Sol for the first time?
- I came in 1997 with two friends to practise and we stayed in Estepona. We became members for a season at La Cañada when it still only had nine holes. In 1999 I went to Texas to study, but I was only there for a short time, and in 2000 I returned to Spain. I had a girlfriend and we remained in Estepona until 2004, when I decided to stay permanently. That year I won the European Tour Qualifying School held at San Roque Club and, in 2005, at the same course I lost a play-off for the Spanish Open against Peter Hanson, and here I still am. When I return from a trip and arrive at Málaga airport I feel I’ve returned home. When I travel to Sweden it’s a different feeling.
- What is it you like most about the Costa del Sol?
- The weather, its multi-cultural aspect, the ambience, the tranquillity, you can do a lot of things but the lifestyle is relaxed… it’s a very good place to live. I’ve been here nearly 20 years and I’ve never seen a fight, whereas in Sweden, if you go out to a bar, you’ll come across them every weekend.
- Do Swedes usually adapt well to such a lifestyle or are there many contrasts with your country?
- They have a really good lifestyle here, but I think a lot of foreigners don’t adapt well, because they don’t try to learn the language, the culture, the way of life, which is more peaceful here in the south than in other parts of Spain such as Madrid and Barcelona. Many foreigners think things should be like in Sweden or Germany.
- What is your opinion about the Costa del Sol’s golf courses?
- There are some very, very good courses. Here, for example, in Nueva Andalucía you have Las Brisas, Aloha and Los Naranjos, but there are many other areas – like Sotogrande, for example – with Valderrama, La Reserva, Sotogrande… Finca Cortesín is another great course. And another excellent one is the Parador de Málaga, where I hadn’t played for 19 years and I think it’s one of the best designs on the Costa del Sol.
- You began your career very well on the European Tour, with two second places (Spanish Open and European Masters) in your first season, but later things didn’t go so well and you were unable to maintain those good results. What has happened since then?
- In 1999 I began playing as a pro in Sweden on the Nordic Tour, but in 2001 I had problems with the sciatic nerve and I had to give up playing for a while. In 2002 I began playing again, and played well, but in 2003 and 2004 I failed to make it onto the European Tour by just one place via the Challenge Tour. It was an interesting story: my Swedish friend Mattias Eliasson was leading the tournament by two shots with one hole to play, but made a double bogey and then lost in the play-off. I was 13th in the ranking and had a provisional place on the Tour (for the first 15), but his losing in the play-off meant I finished 16th and without a card.
- Apart from the European Tour you have also competed on other circuits…
- I played on the European Tour from 2005 to 2007, and more or less half of 2008, and from 2009 up to last year a few tournaments. I also played on the Asian Tour and the Nationwide Tour (United State), and I won on the Americas Tour in 2009 to give me a little money to play in the US.
- What are your professional plans in the short term?
- I’m working with Golfbookingnow.com, organising the sales and marketing. I’ve signed up with them because, while continuing in golf, I feel like doing other things, something away from competition, and I also think I need time to regain my motivation to play – because I’ve been playing really badly the last five years.
I also want to have an alternative to golf. A lot of golfers fail to have another job plan, in case golf doesn’t work out, and I really don’t want to give classes at a club or something like that. I want to remain associated with golf, using my contacts, but not as a player. I want to help young people; there are loads of very good players but they don’t have someone to give them adequate direction, someone with competition experience.
- So do you see it being difficult to return to top-level competition?
- Right now I’m going to leave it for a while, but I’m sure I’ll try again; I don’t know when, but definitely, because my dream is to play in the US. I’m 38 and still have time in front of me.
- If it’s difficult to obtain a card to play on the European Tour, much harder to secure one for the US Tour…
- It’s difficult but not impossible. There’s not a lot of difference between one and the other. If you check out the world rankings now, there are heaps of Europeans, with McIlroy number one and García among the top positions.
- Should we consider Tiger to now be dead and buried, in a sporting sense?
- I think he’s lost his magic. He had something special, but now the other players don’t respect him like they did before. The Tiger era has been incredible, but I think it’s ended, and I don’t believe he’ll play much more.
- Brightly-coloured hats have always been your sign of identity. Why did you start wearing them?
- Before playing on the Challenge Tour I was in Dallas for a week practising and, because it was so hot, I went into a shop and bought a hat with different colours. I used it for four months and, because it was dirty, I bought others. Later, playing on the European Tour, I tried to change but people didn’t recognise me without the hat. I was playing in the Welsh Open and a young guy in the gallery said, “Where’s your hat?”, and that’s when I realised I would have to keep wearing the hat until I died.”