09 Jun 2022

Scandinavian Mixed: Co-host Henrik Stenson purveyor of dreams for Swedish golf’s next-gen

When Henrik Stenson edged Phil Mickelson in the fabled ‘Duel of the ‘Sons’ to capture the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon, he proudly accepted the mantle of Scandinavian trailblazer. 

“I’m really proud to have done that, and it’s going to be massive for golf in Sweden,” he said after becoming just the second Swede, after Annika Sörenstam, and first Scandinavian male, to win a major.

Fast-forward less than a month and Stenson continued his summer of silver, from the claret jug to the runner-up medal at the Rio Olympics behind future Ryder Cup partner Justin Rose.

Much later, Stenson admitted Rio was perhaps an even more seminal moment for Swedish golf than winning the game’s oldest major championship.

“We’re reaching out to a broader audience and certainly back home in Sweden, there were many more people watching me go head-to-head with Justin for the gold than seeing me win the Open Championship,” Stenson said.

“It’s great for the growth of the game on a worldwide scale. We had messages afterwards from people saying ‘I’ve never tried golf and never really watched it but I watched the Olympics and I want to go out now to try the game’.

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Skip ahead to this past March and the ‘Iceman’ experienced genuine “goosebumps” after being named the first Swede, and just the fifth player from Continental Europe, as European Ryder Cup captain.

“When I started out as a professional golfer, it was beyond my wildest dreams that, one day, I would follow in the footsteps of legends of the game such as Seve and be the European Ryder Cup captain. But today proves that, sometimes, dreams do come true.”

Stenson clearly enjoys being the purveyor of dreams for Swedish golf’s next-gen. It’s why he combined with Sörenstam to launch the €2 million Volvo Car Scandinavian Mixed hosted by Henrik and Annika which is set for its second staging at Halmstad Golf Club from June 9-12.

“We are in it for the long run and our hope is that through the Scandinavian Mixed, Annika and I can help inspire the next generation of golfers in Sweden and around the world. Our game is inclusive in so many ways and this tournament continues to highlight that fact on a global stage.”

The first edition of the DP World Tour (ex European Tour)-Ladies European Tour (LET) co-sanctioned event was won by Northern Irishman Jonathan Caldwell at Vallda Golf & Country Club 12 months ago.

Stenson is looking forward to the shift to Halmstad, a former Solheim Cup venue, but not half as much as welcoming fans to Tylösand.

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“I have played some junior events at the course but never at this level, and I think it will be an excellent host venue… both in terms of golf course and the whole setup within the region. 

“It was a lot of fun to host the tournament with Annika [last] year but the only thing missing for us was the crowds not being able to attend. We are both looking forward to welcoming back the Swedish fans for an even bigger and better event.”

Another hope for Stenson is a long overdue return to form. After reaching as high as No.2 in 2014, the 46-year-old has drifted out to 234th in the OWGR on the back of a frustrating 50 months. Since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March 2020, Stenson has missed 22 cuts in 45 starts, withdrawn from two other events and finished inside the top-20 just five times.

Rebuilding his swing

His last victory came at Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge in December 2019 and the last time he seriously contended was when he finished T-4 and 3rd respectively at the D+D Real Czech Masters and the Omega European Masters last August.

Peter Cowen started rebuilding Stenson’s swing a year ago and the sometimes Dubai-based coach was confident then of a return to glories past.

“I’ve gotten him out of deep (stuff) twice,” Cowen told AP at the time.

Indeed, Stenson has twice recovered from slumps, the first where he made only eight cuts in 26 starts in 2002-03 and slid to 621st in the OWGR. There was another barren spell not long after Stenson won The Players Championship in 2009 and tumbled from fifth to 230th.

Cowen’s biggest concern a year ago was Stenson’s driver, or rather the lack of one. The Swede’s trademark 3-wood strike is other worldly but the young guns have upped the ante off the tee since Stenson was at his dominating best.

“He’s got to be able to hit driver,” Cowen told AP’s Doug Ferguson. “Without that, he’s got to play better than the rest just to compete. That’s the difficult part at the moment.”

As recently as last month, Stenson acknowledged the widening gap but entered the 104th U.S. PGA Championship with hope.

“We see the younger generation, the kind of firepower they have off the tee and the distances, but there’s more to it than just distance,” Stenson said.

“No matter what your age, if you play your best game and you use all that experience and mental abilities and everything else, you can certainly be up there and win even at a later age and maybe when you don’t have quite the same distance as the 23-year-olds of today.”

For the record, Stenson missed the cut after negotiating the opening 36-holes at Southern Hills in five-over.

Perhaps the 11-time DP World Tour winner will draw more confidence from his T33 finish at the inaugural Scandinavian Mixed, albeit at a different venue and a distant 11-strokes behind Caldwell.

What is guaranteed is a co-host with the most when it comes to media centre humour.

When a reporter asked Stenson on the eve of Southern Hills whether Mickelson’s victory at age 50 at the 2021 PGA Championship was inspirational for the old blokes, he offered one of his off-the-cuff retorts.

“I’ve got four more years to prepare, I guess.”

The Iceman is the owner of far funnier one-liners but perhaps isn’t done with building his legacy inside the ropes. Those set to line the fairways at Halmstad Golf Club will hope so but not half as much as European fans hoping for Ryder Cup redemption at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club near Rome next September-October. That might, just possibly, top every achievement thus far.

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