Confidence Run Amok

By Randall MellMay 11, 2011, 10:26 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – At his best, Henrik Stenson was fearless.

We saw that in the first round of the WGC-CA Championship two years ago when he stripped to his underwear at Doral and played a shot out of the muck at the third hole.

Practically naked, he still looked invincible, a man who believed he could beat anyone anywhere at any time.

Stenson did just that in his torrid run back then. He beat Ernie Els by a shot and Tiger Woods by two shots winning the Dubai Desert Classic in 2007. He beat match-play dynamo Geoff Ogilvy in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Championship that same year. He beat Pete Dye’s diabolical TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course and golf’s deepest field at The Players Championship in 2009.

After winning here, Stenson moved to No. 4 in the world rankings.

It was a terrific climb, but it made for a hard fall.

The charismatic Swede arrives for this week’s Players Championship ranked 107th in the world.

He’s gone from invincible to nearly invisible, at least on leaderboards and even in The Players media guide, where he was inadvertently left out of the player capsules this year.

“I’ve been going through quite a long slump,” said Stenson, 35. “I’ve been struggling, technically and mentally, but I feel like I’m starting to pick the bones out, and I’m heading in the right direction.”

That’s Stenson, good humored with a brave face, wading into the muck to play the shot that’s been handed to him.

Playing practically naked, however, is a lot harder than playing figuratively naked.

Henrik Stenson
Stenson moved to world No. 4 after winning The Players in 2009. (Getty Images)
Strip a man of his trust in his golf swing, strip him of his confidence and much of his life savings, and the muck is more difficult to escape.

“I think we’ve bottomed out,” says Pete Cowen, Stenson’s swing coach. “You might not see it right away, but give it time. If it’s not this week or next week, it will be soon.”

What happened to Stenson?

Why did his game get sideways?

“There are a lot of reasons,” Cowen said.

A decade ago, Stenson’s swing inexplicably left him. He became so desperate and confused sinking to 176th on the European Tour’s Order of Merit, he resorted to hitting shots with his eyes closed. He got so wayward back then, he walked off the course in the middle of a tour event because he couldn’t keep his ball in bounds.

Stenson fought back from that to become a dominant player. He rebuilt his swing with Cowen’s help. Stenson’s not nearly as sideways now as he was back then.

What’s happened this time?

A swing flaw crept Stenson’s game at the end of ’09. Last year, he contracted a mycoplasma virus in his lungs, plaguing him for two months of the summer.

But back before all of that, there was the Stanford Financial scandal.

Stenson was among the many victims when that news hit early in ‘09. He signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Stanford Financial a few months before the Security Exchange Commission charged the company with operating a “massive Ponzi scheme.” Stenson’s never said how much he has tied up in the company, only that “a big part of my own savings and investments” are in frozen accounts.

“He doesn’t like to talk about it, and he won’t talk about it,” Cowen says. “It’s been difficult, and it’s not over yet, but he won’t use it as an excuse.”

Ask Stenson about his struggles, and he points to his swing, to his confidence, to his driver.

“It’s the chicken and egg question,” Stenson said. “I’ve been a bit out with my golf swing, and when that happens, it leads to feeling insecure. You don’t know where to start your ball. If you don’t know where to start the ball, you don’t know where you’re going to hit it, and things start tumbling from there.”

Stenson sought out sports psychologist Bob Rotella for help. He also relies heavily on Fanny Sunesson, who is as much a mind coach as his caddie.

“Henrik’s such a good guy, has such a great personality, fun loving, very calm,” Rotella said. “We talked about how sometimes, you get so concerned about this or that, you don’t let yourself be Henrik. We’ve talked about Henrik getting back to being Henrik on the golf course.

“He’s in the best place I’ve seen him in quite awhile. He’s gotten clear in his head with his golf swing.”

Cowen helped there. A month ago, frustrated trying to identify exactly what changed in Stenson’s swing, Cowen locked himself in his office and did some serious detective work. He pored over video of Stenson’s swings. He pored over “hours and hours” of video.

Finally, Cowen found what he was looking for. He found a subtle manipulation in Stenson’s swing, a manipulation affecting Stenson’s transition from the backswing to the down swing that threw off the collaboration of club head, shoulders, arms and body. Cowen blamed himself.

“I missed that? How did I miss that?” Cowen asked himself.

Cowen said a swing is three dimensional, but the manipulation is difficult to see. He said the manipulation is especially difficult to detect in the limited two dimensions of video.

When Stenson won THE PLAYERS Championship, he hit a subtle draw. His bad shots become a hook now. He’s working at a more “neutral” ball flight.

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass isn’t the ideal place to work out your swing. Waywardness is severely punished here, but Stenson says he loves the course and the feelings he gets returning here.

“I played my first Players Championship in ’06, and I immediately fell in love with the course,” Stenson said. “I’m sure that’s why I’ve had good success around here. When you like a course, when you feel comfortable on it, you raise your chances. I have my name here with all the greats who’ve won here in the past. It’s special to be back here.”

Stenson may have played his best round ever winning here in ’09. He was magnificent, closing with a 6-under-par 66, the only bogey-free round of a difficult day.

“The confidence I took out of this win was that if I could beat this field here, I could beat this field at a U.S. Open or British Open, if I put myself in position,” Stenson said.

This week’s all about confidence for Stenson, about putting himself in position to succeed again. It’s about fearlessly extricating himself from the muck once more. He knows the way out. He’s triumphantly escaped far worse patches of trouble.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC


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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm