Magic Man plays second fiddle

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 8:02 AM ET

Punctuating a short, uphill hike from the fourth green to the fifth tee box at Priddis Greens yesterday, Kent Nilsson put down his wife's 50-lb. tour bag and exhaled deeply.

Five years into a marriage that has seen the former Flames wizard dabble as a caddy for bride Helen Alfredsson, she wasn't about to cut him any slack.

"You OK?" deadpanned his beloved, prompting a quiet response that gave the 44-year-old LPGA veteran a chuckle before her tee shot.

While she followed the gentle ribbing with a loving peck on the cheek, minutes later Nilsson was the recipient of an angry glare after a missed birdie putt.

"All the girls take it out on the caddies," chuckled the even-keeled Swede known worldwide as The Magic Man.

"You read a green wrong and you're in (crap) for four hours. That's what's hard -- when to talk and when to be quiet."

While generally congregating for idle chit-chat on tee boxes and after putts throughout the second round of the CN Canadian Women's Open yesterday, the two rarely spoke between tee and green.

"Because he's 100 yards behind!" said Alfredsson, taking another playful shot at her 53-year-old bow-legged beau, who retired in 1995 following a six-game comeback as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.

"Actually, it's because I walk so fast. I know I'll see him later."

For a time it appeared much later, as a three-footer on her last hole yesterday appeared to leave her one shot short of the cut, which would have sent Kent to Edmonton to see son Robert, who plays for the Oilers -- the team Nilsson scouts for in Europe.

As his wife steamed off the course following her late miss, the man who never seemed to get too upset about anything simply shrugged.

"It's hard, but they're all the same out here -- they all have tempers," said Nilsson, whose wife ended up making the cut.

Claiming two of her seven LPGA Tour wins last year to top $5 million in career earnings, Alfredsson is a big name in their native Sweden, where they met at Ulf Nilsson's wedding 11 years ago.

The duo makes up one of Sweden's top power couples even though she spends most of her time living in Orlando while he lives in Stockholm.

While most in the large gallery following Alfredsson and co-leader Suzann Petterson recognized Nilsson -- the first star the Flames ever had while playing here from 1980 to 1985 -- he plays second-fiddle to his wife while on tour.

"This is her stage -- my stage was gone 24 years ago," said Nilsson, who still owns the team record for assists and points in a season when he had 49 goals and 82 helpers during the Flames' first year here, in 1980-81.

Nilsson is simply an on-course fill-in for his wife, who recently fired her bagman. Asked if the pay was any good, the ever-quotable Nilsson smiled.

"Pay?" chuckled Nilsson, who is spending the week bunking in with former teammate Jim Peplinski.

"Won't feed a cat."

That's pretty much what he's worth, hinted his bride.

"I don't let him read putts," said the fiery Alfredsson, who appears a good fit on course with her laid-back hubby.

"But he's pretty good with clubs. He's been great for practising because he's a good player."

She also enjoys his humour on the links. Thursday, he met her at a ball, handed her five clubs and said "one of these ought to do it."

Wayne Gretzky once suggested Nilsson was perhaps the most skilled player he'd ever seen.

Judging by his wit, wife and cushy lot in life, it's clear he's still got game.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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