THE IN­TER­VIEW: HEN­RIK STEN­SON

John Huggan chats with the big-hit­ting Swede about Royal Troon, the fall­out from his stel­lar 2016 and his plans for this year.

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS JOHN HUGGAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GETTY IMAGES

Win­ning the 2016 Open Cham­pi­onship in the way you did was ob­vi­ously ex­tra spe­cial, but how did you re­act to it all in the af­ter­math of such a high?

2016 was the best year of my ca­reer, but the 12 months after Troon were also the busiest of my ca­reer. And yes, it was hard at times to fo­cus on what was ahead rather than what had been. Un­til I ac­tu­ally re­turned the Claret Jug at Royal Birk­dale, I felt like I was con­stantly liv­ing in the past. Ev­ery­where I went I was the Open Cham­pion, which is great.

But the spec­tac­u­lar way in which I won def­i­nitely made it even more in­ter­est­ing to peo­ple. Ev­ery­one wanted a pic­ture and ev­ery­one wanted to talk about it. So it was hard to live in the mo­ment and fo­cus on what I needed to do go­ing for­ward. Yes, you had writ­ten the first para­graph of your obit­u­ary. (laughs) That’s one way of look­ing at it. But I know what you mean. The bot­tom line is that I was busier than I had ever been o† the course. The de­mands on my time were amaz­ing.

I learned a bit of what that was like after win­ning the Fed-Ex Cup and the Race to Dubai in 2013. But this was a whole new level of in­ter­est. I was shat­tered by the early part of 2017, just as I had been at the same point in 2014.

I ac­tu­ally still read 2013 as the best sea­son of my life in terms of how I played for that hole year. Yes, I won the BMW In­ter­na­tional and the Open in 2016 – and the sil­ver medal at the Olympics – but I was bet­ter dur­ing 2013 as a whole. I played al­most at the peak of my game for just about half the sea­son. In 2016 I had some re­ally high highs, but not quite the same con­sis­tently high level over­all. Still, I had my best week at the best event. So I can’t com­plain. Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing.

Is it true to say that your mind was some­times else­where dur­ing the first part of 2017?

I was still rid­ing the wave when I played well in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. But after that I had some time o‘. I was away from the game for a month while we moved house. It was then that ev­ery­thing started to catch up with me. I didn’t have much en­ergy left by the time I went to the Mas­ters.

The men­tal side of this game is so im­por­tant and I was run­ning on empty. I was just tired and couldn’t make things hap­pen. I was only re­ally in con­tention in Dubai and at Went­worth in May. Oth­er­wise, I was just strolling along. Win­ning the Wyn­d­ham Cham­pi­onship was so im­por­tant for me. It’s not the big­gest event on the PGA Tour but I was still pushed to the very limit.

Yeah, when you win any­where you have to beat guys who are play­ing well.

Ex­actly. On any Tour you have to play re­ally well to win. You can’t win with just ‘good.’ You have to do a bit bet­ter than that.

Is any of what you’ve just said that un­ex­pected? Is it not what you would ex­pect after such a high?

A bit I guess. When you have maybe the best year of your ca­reer it is al­ways go­ing to be a chal­lenge to re­peat. Ex­pec­ta­tions rise. Peo­ple ex­pect you to play at the high­est level all the time. That is im­pos­si­ble. But some­one told me re­cently that I am the only player who has been in the top-10 on the world rank­ing for all of the last four years. I’m proud of that.

At the Bridge­stone tour­na­ment ear­lier this year I asked my cad­die, Gareth (Lord), to check how many play­ers had scored more world rank­ing points than me in 2017. He came back and said it was 30. And since then I won the Wyn­d­ham and was sec­ond at the WGC HSBC in China. So I would guess I am maybe 20th now. That’s not bad in a year when I haven’t played nearly as well as I can.

Hav­ing said that, I al­ways mea­sure my­self against my best game. When I’m not there it does feel like I am com­ing up a bit short. And when I had that per­for­mance at Troon the bar was raised even higher.

That’s the best you have ever played in a sin­gle event?

Oh yes. I’d have to say so. Maybe it is a bit eas­ier when you win your first ma­jor rel­a­tively late in your ca­reer. I don’t want to men­tion too many

UN­TIL I AC­TU­ALLY RE­TURNED THE CLARET JUG AT ROYAL BIRK­DALE, I FELT LIKE I WAS CON­STANTLY LIV­ING IN THE PAST – HEN­RIK STEN­SON

names, but there have been many guys who have strug­gled a lot after win­ning one. I’m not sure if Trevor Im­mel­man ever won again after his Mas­ters vic­tory for ex­am­ple (once, on the 2013 Web.com Tour). And oth­ers have dis­ap­peared too for what­ever rea­son. So it was nice for me to win again after Troon.

I look back and re­mem­ber how frus­trat­ing 2015 was for me. I was sec­ond maybe half a dozen times. I was play­ing ten­nis with my son on the drive­way one day when I looked up at the Fed-Ex Cup in my o‡ce win­dow. I thought to my­self there should have been an­other one in the win­dow next to it. But you never know what it is in the fu­ture. In­stead, I got a Claret Jug. I’d rather have that than two FedEx Cups (laughs). So what is mo­ti­vat­ing you go­ing for­ward? Just win­ning re­ally. That never gets old. I love be­ing in that po­si­tion. But is it enough just to win a tour event? Yes. It’s enough be­ing in the mix. But I know what you are say­ing. I have maybe five years left at the high­est level to win more ma­jors. That fo­cuses my at­ten­tion. How does the Ry­der Cup fit into all that? Do you even think about mak­ing the next team? I do. Of course. I’d love to be on the team again. I’ve had such a great time at ev­ery Ry­der Cup I’ve played in. It is such a great honour. So yes, I want to get on at least two more teams be­fore we are done. It’s cer­tainly on my mind. Is there a cap­taincy in your fu­ture? Pos­si­bly. I don’t know. These days it seems like it is a full-time job for at least a year. I’d have to be pre­pared to make that sac­ri­fice. Put it this way. I don’t think I would turn it down if it was o“ered, but it would have to be at the right time. What are the best and worst as­pects of the Ry­der Cup? I’m not sure there are any bad as­pects. I’ve al­ways taken the view that I would rather be on the los­ing team than not be there at all. It is such a pres­surised event. It re­ally gets the adren­a­line go­ing. Whether it is home or away, al­though they are so di“er­ent.

Play­ing in front of those crowds and for your coun­try and team­mates is such a great ex­pe­ri­ence. So di“er­ent. Be­ing part of it all is def­i­nitely worth fight­ing for. How do you feel about the crowds? I walked around at Hazel­tine and it wasn’t a lot of fun. Yes. We do seem to have lost our way a bit there. There is a good case to be made of telling the crowd what is ex­pected of them. And if any­one is not pre­pared to be­have in that way they should be asked to leave. It’s hard to believe that some of those peo­ple are ac­tu­ally golfers. Yes. There is a di“er­ent crowd at the Ry­der Cup. It feels like there are a lot of peo­ple there who have not been to many golf events. The guy be­hind the plate in base­ball is show­ing up. And that is not the way we op­er­ate in golf.

In ac­tion sports the ball is mov­ing and ev­ery­one re­acts to the mo­ment. The play­ers don’t have time to lis­ten to stu“. But in golf there’s that time. It’s easy to be dis­tracted by what you hear.

I fully ex­pect the Amer­i­can crowd to sup­port their play­ers. But sup­port­ing your own is not the same as try­ing to dis­tract the other team. Some of the chants were re­ally vile at Hazel­tine. That’s true. I feel like I have a pretty wide fan base ev­ery­where in the world. So they weren’t par­tic­u­larly nasty to me. But I know some of my team­mates – Rory, Ser­gio, Danny Wil­lett and Lee West­wood – were sub­jected to some pretty hos­tile stu“. They had a rough ride. So I wouldn’t be against calm­ing that down a bit in the fu­ture. Maybe it needs the other spec­ta­tors to start iden­ti­fy­ing the cul­prits. Does it sur­prise you that the Amer­i­cans dom­i­nate the Pres­i­dents Cup, in con­trast to

the Ry­der Cup? I know Nick Price and the In­ter­na­tional Team would like a change to the for­mat and

the num­ber of matches. I can’t for the life of me think why there would be re­sis­tance to that. It is sup­posed to be a real match, one you ide­ally want to be tight. And to make that hap­pen the In­ter­na­tional side needs some help. If you look at the rank­ings of their side, they have to go a long way down to get 12 play­ers. So the bot­tom end has been rel­a­tively weak. They are not bad play­ers, of course. But at the end of the day there is a rea­son why some­one is ranked 75th and some­one is ranked 15th. Over a pe­riod of time that dier­ence shows up. So what advice would you give the matches? They need to fig­ure out how to make them close. The last one was tough. It was al­most over be­fore the sin­gles. That’s no good. Even at Hazel­tine – when we had a de­cent sized hill to climb – win­ning was still pos­si­ble go­ing into the last day.

I don’t have much in the way of advice other than chang­ing the for­mat so that there is more room for the cap­tains to rest play­ers. It was a shame that the In­ter­na­tion­als did not win in Korea back in 2015. That would have been great for the event. How do you look back on your ex­pe­ri­ence at the Olympics? It was won­der­ful. I grew up watch­ing both the sum­mer and win­ter games. And it was such an honour to rep­re­sent Swe­den. Has there been much ev­i­dence since Rio of golf grow­ing in the way the or­gan­is­ers hoped? Maybe not. But it is early. Golf needs more than one event to make a big dier­ence. But 10 times more peo­ple in Swe­den watched me go head-to- head with Justin Rose in Rio than watched me win the Open. That has to be good.

The game was show­cased and sud­denly I was an Olympian rather than just a golfer. And while it was great to win a medal, other guys like Rickie Fowler had a great time too. Was it a hard loss? Not at the time. We both played re­ally well. But it hurt a bit after­wards to be so close to the gold medal. I can’t lie. Did you watch any of the other sports? I did. Some hand­ball. I stayed a cou­ple of nights in the vil­lage. You roughed it? A spoiled, pam­pered Tour pro roughed it in the vil­lage? Yes (laughs). I did. I went to the open­ing cer­e­mony and wanted that ex­pe­ri­ence too. But when it was time to play I wanted my own space. It was a bit cramped in the vil­lage (laughs). When did you last visit Aus­tralia? I haven’t been back since the 2005 Heineken event at Royal Mel­bourne, which is a shame. I love the cour­ses there. I’m a big Sand­belt fan. I’d love to go back at some point.

But find­ing time in the sched­ule is di–cult. I play in the Mid­dle East in Jan­uary. Then I’m in the US pretty much through the US Open. Then it is Europe. Then back to the US again.

There are just too many tour­na­ments. I’m go­ing to be 42 in April and I have my lit­tle nig­gling in­juries. So I’m not look­ing to add events to my sched­ule. If any­thing, I’d like to play less, not more. Aus­tralia is a lovely place but it is also far away.

WIN­NING THE WYN­D­HAM CHAM­PI­ONSHIP WAS SO IM­POR­TANT FOR ME ... I WAS PUSHED TO THE VERY LIMIT – HEN­RIK STEN­SON

Sten­son de­feated Phil Mick­el­son by three shots, who fin­ished 11 clear of third place. Sten­son won the Open in 2016 after fir­ing one of the great­est fi­nal rounds in his­tory.

Sten­son closed with a six­un­der 64 to win the Wyn­d­ham Cham­pi­onship last Au­gust.

Sten­son de­feated Ol­lie Sch­nieder­jans by a shot to win his first event since Troon.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.