Relentless spirit sees Henrik Stenson reap rich reward in Atlanta
Swede’s capacity to bounce back a major factor in winning Tour Championship and also securing the FedEx Cup title
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson with the trophies after winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup at East Lake Golf Club, in Atlanta. Photograph: AP Photo
Henrik Stenson seemed to be challenged for a brief period on the back nine last Sunday in East Lake, Atlanta, at the final Fed-Ex Cup play-off event. The swashbuckling Jordan Spieth, still only 20 , went on a rampage on the inward nine to threaten the Swede when most kids of his age were preparing for their first term of college.
Spieth, in a radical fashion for many golf pros, rejected an academic introduction to golfing by barging onto the PGA Tour through his Web.com tour achievements. Jordan would have reminded the seasoned and world-hardened Stenson of himself when he won at a young age on the European Tour in his first season.
When you are talented and young there is very little that can get in your way as an aspiring golfer. Its only after a few seasons you begin to realise all that can go wrong and the downside becomes way more apparent than the innocent oblivious ease of exercising a natural gift.
Stenson knuckled down as the chasing pack – Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker – appeared in his rear-view mirror. On key decisions where he was not certain, he took extra time and on the 11th and 16th after laborious deliberation with Lordy (Gareth Lord), his caddie, came up with the right choices.
I had been out with Henrik over the past two years in his second career slump when he was taking an inordinate amount of time to pull a club and when he did it tended not to be the ideal outcome.
Stenson made a very telling, if clichéd, statement after his victory about always trying. Dan Hicks noted that Henrik was down to 230th in the world a couple of years ago. Stenson retorted that he never gave up hope and always kept trying to improve.
Of course, tenacity is the most valuable quality in golf, given you can advance the ball somewhere in the direction you intend to. No matter what happens or what outrageous piece of luck befalls you, battling is the most common quality winners possess.
Having established himself as a steady top European player initially in his career, Henrik started to realise how difficult the game was and started a downward spiral. He gradually recovered, culminating in a victory in the richest prize in golf at the time, the Players Championship at Sawgrass in 2009 and regained his status as a serious world player. This happened about a year after he signed a contract with the “financial wizard” of the era, who was also a golf aficionado, Allen Stanford.
Henrik has always been extremely affable, with a special sense of humour for a Scandinavian. Like his fellow countrymen he is also gifted with a very strong work ethic. Particularly during his slumps he was a permanent feature on the range. He was somehow going to dig form up and out of the practice ground, his mantra of never giving up very much being exercised.
So after his Players victory it seemed there was only one way for Stenson to go, towards the top. Golf is not the only thing that affects how professionals perform on the course. There has never been a shortage of financial advisers on tour. They are particularly visible around successful players. His new sponsor became influential and a new opportunity for investment arose for the re-established Swedish superstar. Stanford is now serving a lengthy jail sentence for financial misdemeanours.
Loss of form
It is hard to say what came first; another spell of lack of form or the world financial crisis at the end of the last decade. But gradually Stenson lost his magic touch, lost weight and lost loads of money. Despite the vast sums of money that golfers can earn, the pressure of losing most of your earnings and having that loss indelibly etched in your head each time you tee it up can make golf, under the toughest of conditions, almost impossible.
If you start thinking about what each shot is worth, while playing, you can easily lose focus of what you should really be doing.
Having battled in his inimitable fashion for three years in the lower ranks of world golf, the 37-year-old from Gothenburg finally regained form at the Scottish Open in Inverness in July this year. He has been on top of his game ever since. There are players who have consistent careers, whether that is good or bad, over their life-time on tour. There are a handful of golfers who have dramatic peaks and troughs in their golfing lives that defy most pundits’ logic.
So if you are analysing golfers during their professional life-cycles it is important to account for the unknown quantity of relentlessness that can lead to pay days such as the most determined Swede in the short history of Swedish golf has enjoyed in the last month in the lucrative Fed-Ex Cup play-offs. Because if you are talented and you keep trying in a focused manner the chances are you will be rewarded, at least until the next downturn.