17 Jul 2016

Henrik Stenson: Major focus for 2016

BY SCOTT GRAYSTON (March 2016)

Golf is being revolutionised by a new era of players and executives, but there is one man who intends to keep the young stars on their toes and reach some long-awaited milestones in 2016 – the year he turns 40.

Henrik Stenson has achieved so much in the game, winning 17 professional championships and topping the Race to Dubai in 2013, the same year he won the FedEx Cup in the US. Yet a Major title remains elusive, which seems almost unfathomable given the world No. 6’s undoubted pedigree.

Stenson enjoyed a successful 2015, although, but for a series of near-misses, it could have made been even more impressive. He finished runner-up six times on the PGA and European Tour before undergoing knee surgery at the end of the year.

Although he is yet to reach full fitness, the Swede has hit the ground running in 2016, with three top-six finishes in as many tournaments on European Tour. His tied-third at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship was achieved weeks after surgery.

Stenson is confident his early season form will continue to improve as he aims to create history in a huge year for golf, but he knows it’s not going to be easy.

“The competition gets harder every season because players have a more aggressive mindset these days,” he said. “The young guns want to knock the older guys off the shelf and this in return motivates myself and the guys that have been around for a while to keep in shape and work hard to keep them at bay.”

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Since moving to Orlando, Florida four years ago, Stenson competes regularly against the new ‘Big Three’ and co on the PGA Tour, although the presence of World No.1 Jordan Spieth and eventual winner Rickie Fowler in Abu Dhabi proves the new breed of US stars will no longer confine themselves to Stateside tournaments.

“What we’re seeing is the next generation of American golfers that are keen on travelling worldwide,” he said. “Some of the older players were put off in the past but the younger guys are definitely keen to travel.

“It’s great that Spieth and the other Americans are taking part in European Tour tournaments because it makes the standard improve and increases the competition for the players.”

Stenson has tasted life on both Tours and appreciates them both for diverse reasons.

“It’s often easier for the players to manage on the PGA Tour because you stay in the same country rather than going all over the world,” he explained. “But I love the element of travelling you do on The European Tour because you get to see different cultures and try out new things.

“I loved being brought up on The European Tour and seeing different parts of the world that I’d never thought I would get to visit.”

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Stenson, who reached No.2 in the world in 2014, believes the element of unity that comes from travelling together gives The European Ryder Cup team the upper hand when they face USA.

Europe are aiming to win a fourth successive Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Minnesota in September, and Stenson, who is expected to make his fourth appearance in the competition, is sure to play a key role for the team.

“The camaraderie is a small edge that Europe benefits from in The Ryder Cup,” said Stenson.

“We travel more together as players than the US do. On The European Tour there might only be two or three different accommodations for events so everybody will be together for things like dinner, whereas in the US there will be 30 different accommodations and 100 restaurants to choose from.

“Most of the players will travel with their families and won’t meet up that much with the other players. This is one of the reasons why the European side has a little bit more solidarity.”

NEW GENERATION

Stenson realises the exigent task ahead for the Darren Clarke-led side as Europe aim to win an eighth title in nine editions.

Boasting five of the world’s top 10 players – and 11 of the top 20 – while enjoying home advantage, Team USA will present their biggest challenge in recent years.

“We are seeing a new generation of American players come through that will make their Ryder Cup team strong for years to come, while Europe hasn’t made that generation shift yet,” he said.

“I think Europe could struggle for a few years before we establish our next generation of players on the big stage. It’s going to be a tough event this year. I think the Americans are really up for it so it’s going to take some good golfing to beat them.”

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Some of Stenson’s fondest memories have been created at The Ryder Cup, like the exuberant celebrations at The K Club in 2006 after he sunk the winning putt in a 18.5-9.5 rout, and his flawless partnership with Orlando neighbour, Justin Rose, in 2014.

After missing out on two Ryder Cups, in 2010 and 2012, the 39 year old knows the thrill of competing is something he does not want to be overlooked for again.

“I would rather play and lose in a Ryder Cup than not be involved at all because it’s such a great week together with all the other players,” he said.

“Being part of the team with all the families is so much fun. The fans are always amazing and you can actually hear them even more when you’re playing in the States because it’s a much smaller, but a louder group of supporters travel over.

“The last Ryder Cup at Gleneagles was fantastic. Justin Rose and I formed a really good partnership and we played some excellent golf together so hopefully we can team up again this year. It’s such an incredible week.”

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CHARACTER

The supreme partnership of Stenson and Rose played together in the opening match on both mornings in 2014 at Gleneagles. This is testament to their character, experience and ability to handle pressure on the big stage. The tense drama and excitement in Scotland was a uniquely surreal feeling that the Swede will struggle to forget.

“I had goosebumps all over,” he revealed. “When we were walking through the tunnel it was electric. I can only imagine it’s like a player coming out of the tunnel in a UEFA Champions League Final. What a feeling. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on the golf course and it always gives me memories that will last for a lifetime.”

The Ryder Cup is only one huge team event Stenson is relishing this year. He believes the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics will give him the chance to promote golf in Sweden and be part of an event that he never thought would be possible.

“To participate and be part of such a prestigious event will be unbelievable,” Stenson said. “I’ve never been to an Olympic Games so I can’t wait to be hopefully be part of one. To win a gold medal for Sweden would be massive back home.

“I see a lot of football, ice hockey and skiing in Sweden but the general public doesn’t watch that much golf so winning a gold medal could make a huge difference to the importance and the popularity of the sport there.”

Double DP World Tour Championship wins along with the Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters are among Stenson’s European Tour highlights. He’s also claimed mighty scalps such as the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the Players Championship in the US. But there’s one thing missing from Stenson’s trophy cabinet that he’s on a mission to get his hands on. He’s been on the cusp of Major triumph, but has never completed the task on the biggest stages of all.

HISTORIC ACHIEVEMENT

Since 2008, he has finished in the top four in sevens Majors. His closest was at the 2013 Open Championship when he was runner-up to Phil Mickelson and he’d dearly love to go one better this year.

“I’d probably take a Major before an Olympic Gold,”he said. “It still would be extremely special to win an Olympic Gold because you’d be the first one to do it so it would be a historic achievement. However, no Swedish player has ever won a Major so that would be momentous as well and something I’ve been after for a while.”

Given the early season signs while still recovering from injury, there is no reason why 2016 cannot be the year Stenson gatecrashes the ‘Big Three’ party to finally get his hands on that all-important Major title. Even if it’s not this year, he’ll happily settle for Ryder Cup victory and Olympic Gold!

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Favourite Ryder Cup memory

“The celebrations at The K Club were amazing because we won the Ryder Cup quite comfortably and I had this big green wig on that I traded my cap for with one of the Irish fans. Later on David Howell managed to lose this wig so he still owes me for it now! It was a brilliant night.” 

Record Breaker

When he reached No. 5 in the world, he became the highest ranked Swede ever, beating Jesper Parnevik’s record. He went on to reach No.2.

Typical practice day for the Swede

  • Drop the kids off at school
  • Go to the range for five or six hours where I’ll practice all aspects of my game. 
  • Finish off with a gym session for just over an hour or so in the afternoon. 

This game will not give you anything for free so you have to put the time and effort in. 

Henrik’s Fantasy Four-ball

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player

Gary Player

Jack Nicklaus

Arnold Palmer

It would be amazing to play a round with these legends.

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