ATLANTA – Henrik Stenson was walking down the 16th fairway at East Lake Golf Club on Sunday afternoon when, unbeknownst to him, there was a celebration in his honor unfolding up ahead.
Two brawny young men approached the area surrounding the 18th green, each carrying a wreath made of roses. Tournament officials, clad in matching navy blazers, pleated khakis and yellow neckties, all with earpieces affixed to their right ears so as to avoid missing anything, congregated nearby. Photographers jockeyed for elbow room to set up for the perfect image of the champion.
Chad Parker, the head professional at East Lake, stood with his back against the grandstand, holding a long, thin, dark green box. He unfastened two clasps to reveal a glimmering, shiny replica of Bobby Jones’ famous Calamity Jane putter.
“This is his gift from the club,' he explained. 'He'll get to keep this.'
While the celebration was being prepared, Stenson remained two holes further back. In a way, he was preparing for the opposite.
Leading by three strokes in the tournament and more than 2,000 points in the projected FedEx Cup standings, the amiable Swede took this moment to remember a promise he’d made five days earlier.
Prior to the tournament, Stenson told his managers R.J. Nemer and Adam Pry that if he won both titles, he was going to buy a few close friends vintage 1950s Coca-Cola machines, just like the one in the East Lake clubhouse. He then looked at Nemer and Pry and made the promise to them, too, that he’d gift each of them one of these machines if he swept the dynamic double.
And so walking down the 16th hole, he turned to the managers and pondered his situation. 'I was just thinking,” he told them, “if I win the FedEx Cup, but not the tournament, should I still buy you one?”
As it turns out, he wouldn’t need to contemplate such a hypothetical question. Stenson made par on 16 and another on 17, then came to the final hole some 30 minutes after his celebration was being planned with that three-stroke advantage still intact.
His tee shot on the par-3 18th landed in the front right greenside bunker. He then trailed after it on a presumed victory march.
“Walking down there, and a lot of people saying congratulations,” he later recalled. “I'm like, ‘No, we're not going there yet. We're playing this bunker shot.’ Stranger things have happened. Played a nice bunker shot, and then it was done and dusted.”
Stenson splashed it to 4 feet. In a season during which embarrassing screams from the gallery have become all the rage, one spectator piped up with some quick wit: “Drinks on you, Henrik!”
When he converted the par, the celebration was finally official.
The brawny young men put the wreaths into place. The tournament officials removed their earpieces and applauded lustily. The photographers snapped off rapid-fire clicks. The head professional readied the Calamity Jane replica.
Of course, no discussion of the dual champion would be complete without a mention of the cash prize, a hefty sum of $11.44 million – about $2 million more than Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player combined to earn in their entire PGA Tour careers.
Drinks on you, Henrik, indeed.
It’s not a bad week for any player, but an especially satisfactory one for a player who started his in Chicago as the very picture of frustration. On the final hole of the BMW Championship during Monday’s delayed finish, Stenson slammed his driver so hard into the turf that it broke into two pieces. That was nothing compared to the damage he inflicted on the Conway Farms locker room minutes later, trashing a locker before apologizing and offering to make restitution.
He was criticized at the time by some who called him “too emotional” and wished to see such displays vanish from the game.
So perhaps there was sweet irony on Sunday afternoon. After extending his lead to nine strokes at one point during the third round, it had trickled to a single-shot differential when Jordan Spieth posted a fourth consecutive birdie.
When asked what kind of emotion his man displayed at that point, caddie Gareth Lord placed his hand in front of his body, palm facing down and waved it back and forth, the international gesture for flatlining.
“It was definitely game on,” Stenson agreed. “I just tried my hardest to make pars and play smart the last couple of holes.”
After he finished the tournament with those three straight pars and finally joined the celebration that had preceded him, Stenson was asked if winning both titles could be a stepping stone to claiming a major championship.
Without hesitation, he replied, 'I think this is better, isn't it?'
The brawny young men and the tournament officials and the photographers and even the head professional all joined the assembled crowd in a chuckle. The man of honor was enjoying his celebration.