Before July, most people would describe Henrik Stenson as a great enigma. Now, he’s more likely to hear words like wonderfully happy, $11.44 million dollars richer, and FedEx Cup winner. Enigma no longer.
The Swede is one of the most talented golfers on the PGA Tour, but until this year his inconsistent performances cast a shadow over his impressive talent.
As a former sports reporter in Augusta, GA, my experiences with Stenson revolved mostly around his appearances at The Masters. And it’s there at Augusta National where we find a perfect example of the sometimes maddening golfer he’s fought to put in the past.
The setting is the 2012 Masters Tournament, and Round One was a microcosm of his career to that point. It opened with a virtuoso 5-under front nine 31. An even par back nine would have staked him to the lead, but it wasn’t to be for this version of Stenson. Two bogies tripped him up, and an eight at 18 left him in a tie for 14th.
Still, Henrik is one of golf’s best talents, and heading into Sunday he was in the hunt, 4-under par in sixth place. That led me to say he’d come to 17 on Sunday either fighting for the green jacket or 10 strokes back. Well, an 8-over back nine made the latter the truer statement. Stenson signed a card that was 15 strokes off the lead, tied for a disappointing 40th.
Just par, err…over par, for the course for Stenson 1.0. A 2009 win at the Players Championship kept him on the PGA Tour, and that was it. In 2011, he was ranked as the 230th best golfer in the world, nowhere near where someone of his talent should be. He finished that season No. 166 on the PGA Tour money list, behind the likes of Bio Kim, Joe Durant, Jim Renner, Dean Wilson and a number of others you’ve never heard of.
Through it all, Stenson has always been the consummate professional. Tuesday at the 2013 Masters sticks out as a prime example of who Henrik Stenson is. Being a local reporter, the need for sound is great during Masters week, and Henrik is always a good sound byte. When I asked to talk to him that day, he said he needed to eat and he’d come right back. Any reporter knows that means, “I’m getting as far away from you as possible. See you never.” I accepted defeat and set my eye on the next byte to come along.
Ten minutes later, there was Stenson. He came straight over to me and the international reporter who asked for his time and told us he was ready but that we’d need to make it quick because it was 3:30 and he hadn’t even been on the course that day. That was good enough for me, but it’s not even half the story. I don’t know what story the guy next to me was trying to write, but he interviewed the poor golfer for the next half hour solid. That’s not an exaggeration. I stepped away long before then but kept an eye on my watch, curious how long he would hang around.
The very interested scribe finally finished up, and just as Henrik started to walk away another reporter cut off the nearest path to the first tee. He had every right to brush him off, but he didn’t. 20 minutes later, Stenson finished with that reporter and headed out to the course, somehow still with a smile on his face. That’s the Henrik Stenson I remember, and now the game is matching the demeanor.
Starting at the Open Championship, this is Stenson’s line: 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 43rd, 1st, 33rd and 1st. Even the two bad tournaments included brilliant moments. He shot a first round 65 at The Barclays and a third round 67 at the BMW.
In golf, inconsistency is just part of the game. Look at the line of Tiger Woods in that same span: 6th, 1st, 40th, 2nd, 65th, 11th, 22nd.
It’s not just that he got hot at the right time either. Stenson is truly upping his game in the bigger events. His FedEx Cup win goes along with Grand Slam finishes of 18th at The Masters, 21st at the US Open, 2nd at the Open Championship and 3rd at the PGA. He’s now 4th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and he’s absolutely included into the conversation of best player without a major.
Even with the added attention and success, don’t expect Stenson to change his demeanor. He may be a recovering enigma on the course, but the man always had it right. Maybe next year, though, we could all interview him at the same time.