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Antic Stenson Will Get Over It

INVERNESS, SCOTLAND | Onions. Henrik Stenson might know them but that does not mean he likes them. He doesn’t. At least he doesn’t like red onions and not when they are put in his salad. “I don’t mind cooked onions,” Stenson said. “But red onions? Ugh! They have such an aftertaste. Why do people put them in a salad?” He brightened. “Of course, if that is the worst that is thrown at me then I can handle that. And of course I can put red onions in their salads, too.” At that moment Stenson was having to deal with something worse than a dodgy red onion hidden beneath a lettuce or a tomato. He was coming to terms with the fact that having led the Scottish Open by two strokes after 54 holes and by four after 56 holes, he was not only not the winner but not even in a playoff for the title. That was between Phil Mickelson, Stenson’s playing partner in the last round, and Branden Grace. Stenson had fallen out of the lead with six holes to play, dropped a couple more strokes carelessly and only saved a little of his dignity by sinking a good putt for a par on the downhill 18th. His 73 was his worst round of the week by three strokes, seven more than he had taken the previous day. If you think that Swedes are monosyllabic, blond-haired, lugubrious by nature and like avant-garde films, meet Stenson, a dark-haired practical joker who is as balanced as he is tall, drives fast cars fast, lived in the Middle East for a while and once had the yips not with a putter but his driver. When these afflictions were at their worst, Pete Cowen, the coach charged with dismissing them from Stenson’s golf, observed drily: “He couldn’t hit the course, never mind the fairway.” Stenson is a world-class golfer, ranked 32nd at the start of last week, so far from a self-effacing Swede that he stripped down to his underpants to play a shot from a water hazard at a World Golf Championship event in 2009. He is also a world-class prankster who gives colleagues a fountain pen with which to sign autographs, one that gives off a slight electric shock. When Europe won the Ryder Cup in Ireland in 2006, you may remember that Ian Woosnam celebrated by drinking a Guinness so quickly that it came out of his nose, Darren Clarke just drank Guinness and Stenson donned a green wig. “It seemed like a good idea at the time” the Swede said, his humour being more memorable by being delivered usually with a straight face. It should be added quickly that he often drives with a 3-wood and has a magical short game. It does not matter to Stenson, seemingly, whether he is in wispy rough 60 yards above a green with only a pocket of putting surface on which to land his ball or 60 yards from a narrow green shaped like a skean dhu with a wind blowing into his face and a flagstick placed only a few yards from the edge of the green. The end result is the same. Stenson hits his ball to within a few feet. Stenson was 53rd in the world ranking at the end of last year. Better than many but not good enough. He began making changes. He started employing Gareth Lord as his caddie and in a world in which player-caddie relationships sometimes last less time than a Hollywood marriage, their partnership has prospered. Stenson returned to working with Torsten Hansson, his sports psychologist, with whom he had worked from 1995 to 2008. Stenson has such a strong mind that he hardly needs a sports psychologist. Perhaps only Ian Poulter is more self-confident and Poulter is not so determined as Stenson. After Stenson had his yips with a driver in 2001 he took time way from the game before deciding that very few things had beaten him in life and he wasn’t going to allow golf to do so. He sought out Cowen and threw himself vigourously at the task in hand. Cowen knows a bit about golf and bit about golfers. He has coached many of Europe’s best players, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and Clarke among them. He had never come across anyone quite like Stenson. “He would do what I wanted him to do with greater determination than anyone I have ever met” Cowen said at the time. “If I said to him you have to practice that shot all day and all night if necessary he would do it. Only when his children were born did his focus change.” Ah, yes, Stenson and his family.


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