He didn’t stop, not even as his wrist ached and his bank account swelled and his world ranking soared.
Fatigue? Please. When you’ve seen the darker side of pro golf – the crushing slumps, the missed cuts, the lean years, the mounting frustration – Henrik Stenson was determined to ride out this hot streak as long as it would last, even if it meant playing 31 events this calendar year.
And Stenson shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. The strapping Swede with the dark shades and the quick wit reinvented himself again in 2013, returning from a three-year slump to author one of the most impressive seasons in recent memory.
Less than two years after he couldn’t even win his club championship back home in Sweden, Stenson reemerged on the world stage by winning three times, amassing more than $19 million (including bonus money) and becoming the first player to capture end-of-season prizes on both the PGA and European tours in the same season.
It wasn’t just that Stenson completed the historic double. It was how he did so – with dominant performances that left little doubt which player deserved the hardware. At the Tour Championship, he led by nine at one point before coasting to a three-shot win. At the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, he roared home with a flawless 64 – including a 3-wood on the final hole to 2 feet – to win by six. “He is the best player on the planet right now,” Ian Poulter said afterward.
The twin killing completed a remarkable transformation for Stenson, who, despite all of the scar tissue, is still just 37.
His story of perseverance begins in 2001, after he won his first European Tour title. Ill-prepared for golf at the highest level, his game soon spiraled out of control, and he bottomed out at No. 621 in the world in 2003. This, he admitted this year, was the most difficult slump from which to emerge, because he didn’t know his potential as a player. But he fought his way back, representing Europe at the Ryder Cup in 2006 and ’08 before capturing his biggest title, the 2009 Players, to rise to No. 4 in the world.
Unfortunately, that was the same year that Stenson lost a good chunk of his fortune in a Ponzi scheme, and his game promptly went south. Again. From 2010-12, there were poor results and even worse health – first a bout with viral pneumonia, then a waterborne parasite – and he tumbled all the way to 206th in the world at the start of 2012.
“It was more frustrating,” he said earlier this year, “because I knew what I’m capable of.”
There was no guarantee, of course, that Stenson would ever return to form. Ian Baker-Finch never did. Neither did David Duval. Some slumps just consume you, but scared-straight Stenson called upon a new sports psychologist, Torsten Hansson, and stayed committed to longtime swing coach Pete Cowen.
The turning point came at the 2012 South African Open, where Stenson torched the back nine to snap a 3 1/2-year winless drought. A few months later, and after a top 10 at Bay Hill, he needed another high finish at the Shell Houston Open just to qualify for the year’s first major. He tied for second. From there, he went on post 10 more top 10s worldwide, finish 21st or better in all four majors (including a pair of top 3s, at the Open and PGA), and win two FedEx Cup playoff events and the European Tour’s season finale. So complete was Stenson’s game, he ranked in the top 5 in scoring, greens hit, total driving and the Tour’s all-around statistic.
All of which he achieved, remember, while dealing with tendinitis in his wrist, a telltale sign of overuse. Recently, he joked that he’s spent “more time in the ice bucket than a bottle of Moet & Chandon.”
Yet there was no reason to stop, not when every elite player – especially Stenson – knows he is just one bad swing thought away from a career-altering slump.
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