Stenson stands tall

As the 2013 European Tour season reached its climax in Dubai at the beginning of November, there was only one man the rest of the field had to beat, but they couldn’t. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson played with an air of invincibility. Robin Barwick reports from Dubai

Henrik Stenson called it a “dream season”, and what the Swedish golfer achieved in the last four months of the 2013 season is certainly hard to believe. The 37-year-old from Gothenburg, who was ranked as low as 230th in the world less than two years ago, has won so much prize money in recent months that even his caddie, Gareth Lord, has bought a Ferrari.

Stenson won the European Tour’s season-closing DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates by six clear shots, and with it he claimed the European Tour’s 2013 Race to Dubai title. In doing so, Stenson has become the first golfer to win both the Race to Dubai and the PGA Tour’s equivalent FedEx Cup in the same season. It is an historic achievement that included Stenson earning over £11 million in prize money in little more than four months.

Something clicked into place for Stenson in July, since when he has undoubtedly been the leading performer in world golf. He finished second behind Phil Mickelson in the Open Championship at Muirfield, to post his career-high finish in a major, and then was runner-up again at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, third in the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, and then won two out of four FedEx Cup Play-off tournaments on the PGA Tour, to claim the FedEx Cup.

By the time he finished seventh in the Turkish Airlines Open in the penultimate week of the European season at the beginning of November, Stenson had risen to third in the world, behind only Tiger Woods and Adam Scott.

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The highs and lows

Stenson showed a semblance of his current form back in 2009, when he won the WGC Accenture Match Play, and then the Players Championship at Sawgrass, to rise to a world ranking of fourth. As it transpired, that win in Florida would be Stenson’s last for three and a half years, until he triumphed again in the South African Open last November.

“I was very frustrated in 2011, but I never thought about quitting,” says Stenson. “I’d won the Players Championship with a great final round, and then in 2011 I was struggling to make cuts – that’s not really going to cheer you up. It’s inevitable that the frustration is going to build up when you’re not playing to the standard you know you can.”

Now Stenson only has his eyes on further history making, as the all-time list of winners in men’s majors remains short of a Swede.

“Of course I would love to be the first Swede to win a men’s major, but more importantly, I just want to win a major,” he says. “If I were to stop playing golf tomorrow I’d be very pleased with what I have achieved on the golf course. I’ve had a great career, I have seen the world and I have won tournaments all around the globe and I have been on a winning Ryder Cup team. I’m very grateful for my achievements, and now the only thing that is missing is a major. That would be the icing on the cake.

“Whether I am the first Swede or not doesn’t greatly matter. I’d be delighted for any of the other guys to win one too, just as long as I get mine.”

After his win in Dubai, Stenson’s coach, Pete Cowen, who spoke at the Golf Show 2013 in Harrogate in October, said that the world-number three has only realised 70% of his potential.

“It could be really fun when we get the other 30 per cent,” responded Stenson.

“Golf is a game where you’re never going to get finished; you never get to the end result, so there’s always room for improvement. I’ve certainly got a couple of areas where I know I can keep on developing.

“It’s all about just getting out of bed and keep working away. Sometimes you improve but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your results are going to improve for a period of time. But at some stage, you catch up and you can get the rewards for hard work. It’s not what I did in June that created this; it’s the effort and time that I put in over the last couple of years that’s been paying off.”

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