September 24, 2006, and Luke Donald has just holed a putt at the K Club to ensure Europe will retain the Ryder Cup for a third time. Moments later, Henrik Stenson holed out to complete a 4&3 win over Vaughn Taylor and confirm the victory.
Life was pretty sweet for the likeable Swede. Four European Tour wins and a Ryder Cup debut under his belt, and he would soon make his PGA Tour debut – at a WGC, no less – then another Ryder Cup appearance in 2008 – though the less said about that the better. Then, in 2009, came the biggest win of his career at the PGA Tour’s flagship event, the Players Championship. He was also knocking on the door at the majors, with five top-10 finishes between 2006 and 2010.
But then it all went dramatically downhill for Stenson. In 2009, he was a victim of the collapse of Stanford Financial that cost him £5m as well as suffering from an energy-sapping illness that left him unable to train.
By January 2012, Stenson had crashed to 230th in the world. Only then did he start to improve, but was still well outside the top 100 when Medinah rolled around.
Since then there has been no looking back for Stenson, who returned to the top 10 after a 3rd-place finish at the 2013 PGA Championship and stayed there until earlier this year. He returned to the Ryder Cup in 2014, delivering three from four possible points, and another two in Europe’s defeat at Hazeltine.
Stenson is still outside the automatic qualifying positions for Le Golf National, but, as he tells Alex Perry, he has no interest in missing out…
What does the Ryder Cup mean to you as a player?
It’s so much fun. It’s a very intense week, it goes very quickly and there is a lot of golf. It’s a lot of fun in the team room with the other players.
It’s something totally different in an individual sport. Given that we play an individual sport, to be a part of a team and represent Europe is as good as it gets. And now I have won a major championship as well, it gives a whole new aspect.
It’s hard to really compare your individual success in some of the biggest tournaments against the Ryder Cup. You play for yourself, your team, your country, and your continent.
I just hope I can play well in the months to come to get my spot in Paris to be a part of that team for the fifth time. There are some strong rookies looking to be on that team and I think we’re going to have a good team with a chance to win it back from what will be a very strong American side.
You played in 2006 and 2008 then missed out in 2010 and 2012. Did that light a fire under you to get back in the team?
Yeah it was a bit of a wait for ‘14 – but it was worth it. It feels like someone else is stealing the shirt off your back. You want to be part of that team and the dressing room and you want to have your shirt hanging there and pull it on and go out and play for Europe – but you’re not allowed because you haven’t played well enough to qualify. I want to be there and I’m trying my hardest to make sure that’s going to happen.
Have you spoken to Thomas Bjorn at all?
I know Thomas well but, like Paul and Darren before him, he’s let the players play. He and I catch up every now and again, but it’s not really so much because of the Ryder Cup but more as friends and colleagues.
We have little chats about the Ryder Cup here and there and there’s been the odd occasion where there’s been some input, but in general the captain has let all the players play and it’s not until very late it gets a bit more intense in terms of pairings and maybe input on certain things in the lead up – but that’s once the teams are finalised anyway.
How does your role change at the Ryder Cup as you get older?
I think you feel like you want to try and give a bit more in the team room in terms of experience and try and prep the other players a little more but at the same time you’re there to try and perform yourself and we’ve always had good captains with a bunch of vice captains around them who lots of experience of playing in the Ryder Cup so they can give advice and encourage the players who haven’t been there before.
Even though you want to give some experience you’ve still got to prepare and be focused on your own game because you’re there as a player. You want to try and do a little bit of both but the best way as a more experienced player is to play well and go out and win points and lead the way. That’s your mindset, you’ve got to be there to win as many points as you can.
So does Stenson have aspirations of being captain himself one day? And who was his favourite to play under? Interview continues on the next page…