Breakout Performer: Henrik Stenson Is Taking Names, Breaking Clubs, and Winning Tournaments
Henrik Stenson’s remarkable summer streak lasted into the first day of Fall, this past Sunday, when the Swedish golfer nailed down a wire-to-wire win of the Tour Championship, and the FedEx Cup to boot.
Indeed not a fresh face on the tour, 37-year-old Stenson earns the Breakout nod with a run that saw him finish T-3 at the Scottish Open in mid-July, runner up one week later at the British Open, T-2 at the World Golf Championships in early August, and then third at the PGA Championship. Tired of those seconds and thirds, Stenson took top honors at the Deutsche Bank Championship to start September, then sealed the FedEx Cup with a first-place finish at the Tour Championship, earning over $11 million for his efforts.
All this after falling to 230th in the rankings in 2012. Now Stenson is ranked fourth, with some time to rest before resuming his season in late October as the leader in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. We asked Stenson about his performance this past weekend, this season, and perhaps most importantly, whether he’d rather wrestle an alligator or a bear.
SI: You said on Sunday that your victories will feel better as the week goes on. How are you feeling now?
Stenson: It feels better. [Laughs] Every now and again I kind of feel like — that was really, really sweet. I’m sure it’s just going to going to keep on getting better as well. It’s a very nice achievement and I’m really proud and happy to have done it.
What was the most memorable shot of the final round at the Tour Championship?
There were a few shots that stood out. I think the scariest one was probably the tee shot on 6. It’s one of the most intimidating holes on East Lake. I mean it was 216 yards or something with a 4 or 5-iron and not much wind, thankfully. You know you need to hit the green more or less, or you might take 5, so that was a nice one to hit in the middle of the green. And the bunker shots on 16, 17 and 18 — especially 16 and 17.
Stenson’s bunker shot on 16:
Tell me a bit more about 16 and 17.
It was crucial not to drop a shot on 16 [charging 20-year-old Jordan Spieth had just shaved Stenson's lead to one], and then I hit the fairway trap on 17, which led one of the best and most important shots of the week. I hit a solid 8 out of the sand onto the middle of the green. It was perfectly on line and I didn’t even need to look at it — I knew exactly where it was going to be.
Here’s Stenson’s bunker shot on 18 and ensuing reaction.
What was the most forgettable shot of the final round?
Probably the tee shot on 14 on Saturday afternoon. I hooked it left, due to a little bit of a lack of course knowledge. That left side on 14 is to be avoided. There’s nothing to stop the ball on that side, and it landed unplayable in the bushes. That kind of started a little bit of those dropped shots coming in in the rain when it was windy and pouring pretty heavily, making it tough to find get a rhythm back.
FACT Stenson damaged his 4-wood (a 17 degree Callaway X Hot 4-wood ) on the driving range before the second round, so he gave the club to his trainer to take to his locker and played with only 13 clubs in his bag. It could have been much, much worse. Had Stenson carried the club, he would have been penalized two strokes per hole, up to a maximum four, under the Rules of Golf, and would have been disqualified had he used the club.
“That’s the problem when you hit it too hard, right?” Stenson joked, adding that the X Hot 4-wood is “a little less hot right now.”
Can you point to one round or one tournament this year when things started to click for you?
The start of this big run was my 8th finish at Bay Hill [in March]. I finished with a nice win in South Africa at the end of 2012, and played well in the Dubai Finals, but I didn’t really pick up the way I wanted this season. It wasn’t bad, but with nothing really happening early on it got a little frustrating. I scrambled hard at Bay Hill and did some work with my coaches. Then I went straight to Houston and finished second there to get into Augusta. And from there, I’ve been back in the top 50 and it’s been going in the right direction.
FACT This story would not be complete without mention of Henrik’s infamous strip-down shot at the 2009 World Golf Championships, when the Swede found himself the mud and played a shot wearing only his underwear (and glove). Points for style.
You’ve said that a key to your success has been a commitment to a long-term approach, rather than making quick fixes. Can you give an example of a quick fix you’ve tried to make in the past?
If you’re lost a little bit with your game and not getting the results you want, it’s easy to stand on a driving range at a tournament on a Tuesday and you look for something you want to find or play with. Or you’re practicing, thinking, “shoot, I’ve got a tournament coming next week and I need to play well.”
Does that kind of tinkering ever work?
It’s just very rarely something falls into place that way. It’s more about figuring out where we’re at with different parts of our game — determining in three months, “Where do I want to be with my putting game?” And you start taking steps towards, where you want to get to in a longer time frame. That way you give yourself calmness and patience to work with it. Easier said than done, though, and every player is in a different position. How easy is the long approach if you’re a player fighting for his tour card? But that still kind of seems to be the way forward.
FACT At the start of the final round of the Tour Championship, the announcer introduced Stenson as Dustin Johnson, his playing partner. Video of the mulligan was pulled, but here’s a picture for your reference.
You’ve enjoyed great success recently, but is there one aspect of your game right now you’re most eager to improve?
I putted well at East Lake, and I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty good putter, but I haven’t been putting as consistently as I would like. I can putt well and I can make a lot of putts when I’m on, but it’s been too much of being on or off. When I won at Sawgrass, I don’t think I missed a single putt inside 6 to 7 feet for the whole week. Then there’s other tournaments, where I think I played well enough to finish in the top 10, but I finished in the 30’s due to inconsistent putting. Especially given the consistency in my long game, my iron play, I’ve hit a lot of greens. The more I can pick up on greens, the better off I’ll be.
FACT This ultra slow-motion video of Stenson’s drive is mesmerizing. The orchestra helps, of course.
How will you be spending your roughly one-month break until Race to Dubai resumes?
I’m going to be at home in Florida. It’s going to be really nice. I’ve played 25 weeks this year. Tiger and Adam [Scott] play roughly 20 in a year, and I’ve played 25 through mid-September, so it’s been a very busy and hectic season for me. So I’m going to be resting at home, enjoying everyday life with the kids — pick them up from school, play with them, and see them a bit more. And also I’ll get away from golf for a little while and then be able to prepare for the back end of the year, because I’ve got a big stretch coming, where I’ll be playing seven weeks in eight, starting with the BMW Masters in Shanghai.
FACT It hasn’t always been cupcakes and hardware for Stenson, who labored through various ups and downs, until his summer surge. Watch Stenson’s massively frustrating quadruple boney on the 18th hole in the first round of the 2012 Master’s, in which had been leading at -5 to that point. (No volume.)
Now that you have won that big money prize — any indulgences or big purchases coming?
No, not really. It’s a fantastic bonus. It’s an astronomical sum of money to win. But I’ll cherish these trophies more than the prize check. The satisfaction of beating the best of the players at the Tour Championship and winning the overall FedEx Cup — that means so much more to me than the money. I do like quick cars, so I might be able to come up with something in the months or years to come.
FACT Henrik is a full-time golfer, but a part-time model for Hugo Boss, who has outfitted the pro since 2004. Although, he said, “I’m sure they might be able to find one or two models that might look a bit better than I do.”
I spoke with Matthew Fitzpatrick after his US Amateur win and he named you as his favorite player, someone he really admires. Did you get to see him play at the British Open?
I haven’t had the chance to see him play, but I spoke with him at the Open and a bit at the prize giving. He seems to be a great young man, and I’m sure I’ll get chances to watch him now because of his fine performance winning the US Amateur. I can play some practice rounds with him at the Masters and some of the other majors next year. It’s very flattering to hear that other up-and-coming young players would be a little inspired by things that I’ve done.
FACT En route to his first FedEx victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Stenson stepped into the sand at 17 in the final round to take his first bunker shot of the week. Then he did this:
Next year you’ll enter play ranked in the top 10, as opposed to outside the top 100. Do you think that will require a different mentality?
Not really. With high expectations there’s always a possible danger lurking. It’s always hard to follow up one great year with another great one. I’ve still got to finish off the rest of this season with such a high that I’ve had now by winning the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup, and the Deutsche Bank Championship, and all the great play over the summer.
Now I’ve got a month off and I have to recharge and head back into the season. If you get too satisfied, it’s hard to keep on going, and if your expectations get too high, that’s a problem. I’m delighted to be back up in a very high position again. It was my goal this year to get back into the top 50 so I could keep my membership both in America and on the European tour without having to kill myself flying all across the world 100 times. That was the main goal, so I can end my season in a totally different way compared to what I did last year, and that’s really nice.
What’s your least favorite airline?
Any airline that loses my luggage.
If you had to spend a month on an island with one other player on the Tour?
Tough one. It’s like, where do you put the line on the wedding invitations? I’ll say Jim Furyk. I’m starting to get to know him the last couple years and that would give me a chance to get to know him better. He’s a funny guy.
What’s the last club that you broke intentionally?
Well I didn’t break it intentionally, but I definitely caused the driver to break on the the 18th at the BMW [after bogeying the 17th and hitting the ball into the water on 18].
Would you rather wrestle a bear or an alligator?
An alligator. I haven’t seen any two-foot tall bears yet.
Who’s the best prankster on the Tour?
Besides me? We all know that Jason Dufner has got a few things up his sleeve — but prankster, I would definitely say David Lynn.
What’s a good one you’ve pulled recently?
We had David Lynn’s caddy carry about four bottles of water in the bottom of his bag at Augusta for the first two practice rounds. We asked him every day how his new bag feels — is it heavy? And he says, “Yeah, this one is really, really heavy.”