Stenson holds on for Hero World Challenge winFinal-round 66 enough to edge surging Jon Rahm
December 07, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Henrik Stenson's Round 4 highlights from Hero
NASSAU, Bahamas – It must have been a peculiar sight, the man in the blindfold hitting golf shots on the driving range at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.
But for Henrik Stenson, the very object of the exercise was to go without any kind of sight at all. He wanted total darkness, to really feel his mechanics, all the better to rediscover his swing.
It was the winter of 2002—03, and he was mired in his first of two horrific slumps.
“It’s mental, it’s technical— does the chicken or the egg come first?” he said in a lengthy interview with PGATOUR.COM a few days before winning the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club on Saturday. “The first five times you’re looking for a provisional when you hit it into the forest or the hazards or out of bounds or whatever, you’re not thinking too much about it.
“But you do that enough,” he added, “and you stand there and you’re not looking down the fairway anymore. You’re looking at what’s over there and what’s over there, and now it’s a problem.”
Stenson, 43, shot a final-round 66 to win the Hero on a sun-splashed afternoon at Albany. His topsy-turvy back nine included a 30-foot par save on the par-5 11th hole and a tap-in eagle at the par-5 15th. He made three pars to secure the unofficial victory by one over Jon Rahm (66), marking Stenson’s first trophy of any kind since the 2017 Wyndham Championship.
Patrick Reed (66) finished third and was the top American of the 11 U.S. players here whose 8 p.m. charter flight out of Nassau was bound for Melbourne and the Presidents Cup.
Stenson and his wife, Emma, were left to celebrate the win in this vacation paradise with family friends from Lake Nona.
“It’s been a very average season,” he said, “but it finished on a high.”
Perhaps it was the presence of tournament host Tiger Woods (69, solo fourth), or the fall play of Brendon Todd (two straight wins and nearly a third), but it was hard not to take Stenson’s win as yet another reminder of the value of resilience, and the multitude of comeback stories in golf.
“In this game,” said Emma Stenson, a former Swedish national junior team member who played collegiately for South Carolina, “you never know what’s around the corner.”
Or, as Woods said of Stenson, “He completely lost his game there for a while and couldn’t hit it on the map. … The way that Henrik has fought his way back, the countless hours he’s hit golf balls to figure it out – there aren’t a lot of guys who lose their golf swing and come back.”
Stenson’s ball-striking was solid, as usual, but not without flaw in the final round. His putter saved him. Unlikely pars on 11 and 14 kept him going, and a long two-putt on 18 salted away the win.
Henrik Stenson's approach sets up tap-in eagle on No. 15 at Hero
Rahm, the European Tour’s recent Race to Dubai winner, was left to lament the close call and said that without scoreboards he didn’t know he was a shot behind coming up the last hole.
“I played it 20 feet short of the pin thinking I was at least tied for the lead,” he said.
Still, if he had to rate this season, Rahm said, he would give it a 9 out of 10.
Stenson was not so kind in assessing his own recent play. He finished 90th in the FedExCup last season, and 57th in 2018. (The Hero win comes with no FedExCup points.)
“I haven’t played to more than 75% of my capacity in the last couple years,” he said.
He had an elbow injury, but that only set him back a few months. It just wasn’t clicking, but he kept working at it with his longtime swing coach, Pete Cowen, and mental coach, Torsten Hansson.
After a T44 at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Championship two weeks ago, Stenson decamped for the driving range with Cowen and worked for a couple of hours. Slowly, his tee-to-green game began to come back to him, setting his mind at ease for his trip to the Bahamas.
Persistence has always been the Stenson way – through his first slump, which ended with a victory at the 2004 Heritage, a European Tour event at Woburn Golf Club, and his second slump in 2011.
Well, almost always. There was one time, he admitted, that he uttered the Q word. As in quit.
“I think we were at the kitchen table at home back in Sweden,” Emma said, “but it’s not an option to quit when you have the talent he has. He’s just always had to work hard at it; he’s not like some of the boys who just go out there and it happens for them.”
Stenson’s work ethic is the stuff of legend. At 18 and as one of Sweden’s most promising juniors, he was told to put weights in his backpack and go out and walk six to ten miles.
“I guess I was one of the few who did it, if not the only one,” he said with a rueful smile.
Not that he’s sure what it accomplished. As for wearing a blindfold back in 2002—03?
“It was really to free up – if you take away the vision, one of the senses, then you’ve got to rely more on the other ones,” he said. “So, that was helpful. I’ll still wear it sometimes for putting.”
Henrik and Emma and the kids would be back in Orlando soon enough, with Stenson playing more Santa than golf. He’s a big goal-setter, Emma said, but also a trickster who loves to get up to a bit of fun. When the calendar turns to 2020, it’ll be time to think about more PGA TOUR wins (he has six), more majors, a berth in the Tokyo Olympic Games and a sixth Ryder Cup berth.
That’s a lot to play for, and the man in the blindfold is liking what he’s seeing.