Stenson's search for perfection doesn't end with a major
ABS-CBN Sports on Jul 27, 2016 12:30 PM
2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson answers a question during a news conference after a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
AP Golf Writer
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. (AP) — Henrik Stenson was baking in the hot sun of Baltusrol, chipping out of the thick grass in the short-game area until the bag of golf balls was nearly empty. One chip dropped into the cup on its last turn.
"I would have thought that's the perfect way to end," caddie Gareth Lord said to him.
Stenson looked over at him with those ice blue eyes, finally cracking the slightest smile, and then he reached over for a fresh bag of balls.
Nine days later, nothing has changed.
The only difference now from when he last competed at a major is that Stenson's name is on the oldest trophy in golf, and he gets to keep that silver claret jug until he returns it at the British Open next July.
He is a major champion, fulfilling a boyhood dream. Asked the first drink he poured from the jug, Stenson replied, "It was champagne ... and it was champagne ... and it was champagne." He knows how to celebrate.
On the golf course, he knows only hard work. That doesn't stop.
"I think golf is a game you're never going to be finished," Stenson said. "You're never going to get to the point where you're maxed out in your ability and how you're playing, so there's always that strive to become better. I got a little perfectionist in there that's always been pushing me forward, and that can both make me and break me at times, when you're striving to be your best.
"But no," he added, "I don't think I'm going to sit back and just say, 'OK, that was it. I'm finished.' If I look at my career, to win a major championship, that was pretty much the only thing I had not managed to achieve, and now I have that. But then at the same time, you can look ahead and try and win another one."
The trap facing the 40-year-old Swede is his age.
Eight other players did not win their first major until 40 or older, and only two of them won another major. Mark O'Meara won the 1998 Masters at 41, and he added the British Open that summer at Royal Birkdale. The other was Old Tom Morris, who won all four of his British Opens in his 40s back in the 1860s.
Stenson is a different breed.
This is the guy who won the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2013, and two weeks later was so frustrated during a rain-delayed finish at the BMW Championship that he snapped off the head of his driver and then smashed up a locker at Conway Farms.
The following week at the Tour Championship, he was asked how he could be on top of the world in Boston and lose his mind in Chicago in the span of two weeks.
"You don't have much experience with Swedes, do you?" he said.
He has a wicked temper and a dry sense of humor, and both can show up without warning. Through it all, there is an endless search to get better.
Stenson had to endure two significant slumps in his career, the first one that led him to swing coach Pete Cowen. He doesn't think this is anything special because other players over a course of two decades are certain to go through bad times.
"I've shown more than once I'm not a quitter," he said.
Still to be determined is how the quick turnaround between the final two majors — 11 days — affects him. It might be good to tee it up so soon after such a majestic performance at Royal Troon, where he set the major championship record of 264 and needed it to hold off Phil Mickelson.
Stenson was so locked in on every shot that only when he was signing his card did he realize he tied Johnny Miller as the only major champions to win with a 63 in the final round.
Then again, an extra week to let it soak in might have helped.
He was inundated with interviews when he got home to Sweden, though he managed to squeeze in a few days of quiet time with his family before he came over to the PGA Championship. It won't be long after the final major that he heads to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics.
"I've just got to try and get back into my game and pay attention to all the little things that's important to play good golf for me," Stenson said.
"Exactly how to do it, I haven't been in this situation before. But I've still got to focus on my game. Because if I don't do that, then that little form and that little edge is sure to be disappearing. It's still important to play golf and get the practice done, so that's still my priority."
He is not one to get the big head, and it helps that his next major is in New Jersey.
"On the fourth today, I had this long putt and I left it way short," Stenson said. "And someone in the stands shouted, 'Does your husband play golf?' Shows you're not up there on that pedestal for very long."