Henrik Stenson is Looking Forward to Open Defence
Henrik Stenson knows all about highs and lows, on and off the golf course. He reached the pinnacle at Royal Troon in July 2016 when he won a thrilling duel with Phil Mickelson, shooting a 63 to the American's 65 on a day that rivalled the legendary duel in the sun between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977.
It was a thrilling denouement to a fabulous four days of golf, with Stenson becoming the first Swede to win a major. He said: “I always had the belief that I could win The Open because it’s been in the back of my mind since I first stood on a putting green. You imagine those things as a junior and I finally got to live that dream. For me, it was always the one to win.
“When I sat there a year ago with no major championship I’d have gladly taken any. But if I’m to win only one, that’d be the one because being European and watching my idols battling it out for The Open – it’s been highest on my wish list.”
He has spent more than 250 weeks in the top 10 in the world rankings, which makes it all too easy for onlookers to forget that it hasn't always been like for 41-year-old Stenson.
He has been as high as second in the rankings and last year, weeks after his Open triumph, he won the silver medal at the Olympic Games behind Justin Rose. South America is the only one of the six continents on which golf is played that he has failed to win. In 2013 he won the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai, becoming the first player to do so in the same year.
He turned professional in 1999 and topped the Challenge Tour rankings the following year, ensuring he gained his full playing rights to compete on the European Tour. He promptly won the Benson and Hedges International Open in 2001 and finished in the top 10 of the tour's order of merit every year from 2005 until 2008. By 2007 he was in the top 10 in the rankings, winning his first WGC event when he beat Geoff Ogilvy in the final of the Accenture World Matchplay.
He made his Ryder Cup debut in 2006 and made the team again two years later, but his career reached new heights in 2009 when he achieved his first victory on the PGA Tour, beating Ian Poulter by four strokes to claim the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
But then things started to go wrong and in 2011 he failed to achieve a single top-10 finish. By the following year his world ranking had plummeted to 230. Nobody knew it at the time, but Stenson had lost a fortune to the American fraudster Allen Stanford, currently serving 110 years in an American jail after setting up a massive Ponzi scheme that cost hundreds of investors million of pounds. Although Stenson has never confirmed it, it is estimated that he lost in the region of $10m to Stanford. Little wonder that he lost his game.
"There were distractions, but for a time I couldn't hit a barn door," says Stenson. "I didn't know whether the ball was going left or right, and when that happens to you, you have no chance of scoring well. It was a real struggle for me, and I wasn't enjoying my golf one little bit."
He went away and worked hard on his game, knowing that he had to start making some serious money to repair the damage done by Stanford. He finished second to Mickelson at the 2013 Open at Muirfield and was also runner-up to Tiger Woods at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and third at the US PGA Championship. And he wasn't finished. He won the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship to claim the FedEx Cup, along with a $10m bonus. He also added the DP World Tour Championship to win the Race to Dubai. By the end of 2013 he was third in the rankings. Stenson was back.
He won the World Tour Championship again in 2014, as well as finishing 14th in The Masters, fourth in the US Open and third in the US PGA Championship. He was also runner-up at both the Volvo World Matchplay and the BMW International Open and finished second in the Race to Dubai behind Rory McIlroy.
And so his stellar form continued into 2015, with four runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour and second place at the BMW International Open.
He became embroiled in controversy last year when he failed to turn up at Oakmont on the Saturday to complete his second round at the weather-affected US Open. His coach, Peter Cowes, took Stenson to one side and gave him a good talking to, and a week later he won the BMW International Open before heading to Troon and winning The Open. He was one of the few successes in Europe's Ryder Cup team, who were soundly beaten at Hazeltine.
"Winning The Open was a dream come true for me," he says. "Growing up in Sweden, I used to dream about winning The Open and for it to actually happen to me was just amazing. If I never win another golf tournament it really won't matter. I won the Claret Jug and my name is on that trophy with all the legends of the game."
Stenson is a character, much loved by fans and fellow players alike. Stenson enjoys a joke but he also has a temper and has broken several clubs in anger during his tournament career.
In 2009 he caused a stir when he stripped to his underwear and golf glove in order to play a recovery shot from a muddy water hazard during the first round of the WGC-CA Championship. Three years later he led during the first round of The Masters until he came to the 18th hole, where he tangled with the undergrowth and walked off the green with an eight, equalling the highest scored ever recorded on the hole.
Of one thing you can be certain - when Henrik Stenson is in town, there is never a dull moment.
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