Inside the Ropes Henrik Stenson
By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
Late in 2011, Henrik Stenson was virtually nowhere as far as the PGA Tour was concerned, although he actually was back home in Sweden. Stenson, who rose to a career-high fourth in the World Golf Rankings by winning the 2009 Players Championship, completely lost his game and plummeted to No. 230 at one point before launching a comeback. Two years on, when the PGA Tour playoffs return after a one-week break at the BMW Championship this week at Conway Farms near Chicago, Stenson will be atop the FedEx Cup standings after his impressive victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago.
Stenson, who also has a home in Orlando, Fla., has played so well that his spot in the finale, the Tour Championship, which he has never played, is secure. “It’s been some hard work and a couple of changes,” said Stenson, who has finished in the top 10 eight times this season on the PGA Tour and the European Tour, including solo second in the Open Championship at Muirfield and third in the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. “I went back to my old sports psychologist (Torsten Hansson) last summer and put a bit more of a long-term plan in place for all the different areas of the game, and it’s been some good work there that’s starting to pay off big-time. “Golf is certainly a lot more fun when you feel like you’re in control of how you’re playing, than when you’re out there struggling for par. It’s not fun to sit at home, watch your colleagues play tournaments that I played for five, seven years in a row.” The 37-year-old Stenson, who is back up to No. 6 in the World Golf Rankings and also leads the standings in the Euro Tour’s Race to Dubai, wasn’t exactly sitting around the house in Sweden, even though he was almost off the golf radar two years ago.
On the week Keegan Bradley beat Jason Dufner in a playoff to win the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, the Swede was playing in the club championship at Barseback Golf and Country Club near Malmo, Sweden. And somebody named Henrik Hilford Brander beat him. “I was up in contention there, as well,” Stenson told reporters with a smile a few weeks ago at the PGA Championship. “I didn’t win. Yeah, I was playing at my home course, and I was not in a good period with my golf. “I was not playing great, and I ended up finishing second, a shot back. So I guess it’s not something that will stand out as a (career) highlight. … I’ve done enough good results to know I can play this game at a very high level. And not to be able to be anywhere near that standard is frustrating.” Stenson rededicated himself to the game and the class came back almost out of nowhere in the middle of last season when he tied for sixth in the BMW International Open in Germany, tied for seventh in the Alstom Open de France and tied for eighth in the Aberdeen Asset Scottish Open in consecutive outings.
The highlight of his year came when he captured the South African Open, the 12th victory of his professional career, and the first since the biggest win of his career in the 2009 Players at TPC Sawgrass. Stenson followed that with a tie for seventh in the DP World Tour Championship-Dubai, the final event of 2012 the Race to Dubai, in which he tied for 40th. It carried over into this year, when he twice threatened to become the first Swedish man to claim a major championship, in addition to tying for 18th in the Masters and tying for 21st in the U.S. Open at Merion. “I’ve felt the support from the Swedes and a lot of the crowds in general,” Stenson said after finishing second to Phil Mickelson at Muirfield. “And of course I want to make it happen. But all you can do is ask to give yourself a chance and I did that. “So we’ll be back trying again and I can’t be disappointed with my performance. I can ask for a little bit better or a little bit more of my game this week. I know I can do better with my game, but it’s obviously been very, very close with the game I brought this week. “So I take a lot of positives and we’ll be back trying again.” Now he’s making his third appearance in the PGA Tour playoffs and started the post-season at ninth in the FedEx Cup standings thanks to runner-up finishes in the Shell Houston Open, the Open Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this season. Stenson has never gone all the way through the playoffs, bowing out after after the BMW in 2007 and after only one round, the Barclays, last year, but he knows it will be a grind because he has played 23 times around the world this season. “Yeah, it’s a busy run,” said Stenson, whose other big career victory came in the 2007 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, in which he beat Geoff Ogilvy of Australia in the final, 2 and 1. “I’ve played a lot of golf, but I kind of had to with my position at the beginning of the year and play my way into the top 50. … I get a nice break (last week) and hopefully come back firing on all cylinders for the last two.” Weary or not, it’s better than being at home, on the outside looking in.