BETHESDA, Md. – Henrik Stenson made a simple observation about his game with words he hasn’t used in nearly a year.
“I played some great golf,” he said Thursday.
Despite having to scramble for bogey on the 18th hole when his approach tumbled into the lake, Stenson rallied on the tougher back nine at Congressional for a 1-under 70 in the U.S. Open. It was the first time he has opened with a round under par in this major, and it could not have come at a better time.
Since he tied for third at St. Andrews in the British Open last summer, Stenson hasn’t been the same. He has missed the cut in 11 of his last 21 tournaments, including an 80 at the PGA Championship, an 83 at this year’s Masters, and three rounds of 79 during his most recent stretch of bad golf.
“I’ve gone through some bad times,” Stenson said. “But all the big names have done that.”
Stenson at least has kept his sense of humor. During the Match Play Championship in Arizona, Stenson taped a segment for the European Tour in which he interviewed himself, with help from some clever splicing. After asking one question, Stenson the interviewer is seen yawning during the answer.
And when one reporter mentioned he had not been getting good results lately, Stenson smiled.
“I’m starting to like you more,” he said. “You ask nice questions. Not getting good results? You mean I’ve been playing (badly).”
That wasn’t the case on an overcast day at Congressional.
Except for his putter, Stenson might have posted an exceptional score. He had six putts inside 6 feet on his opening seven holes and missed them all – four for birdie, two for par. Instead of expecting his day to get worse, he waited for it to get better.
Eventually, it did.
He hit a 3-wood that went 325 yards on the tough 15th hole and hit pitching wedge to 3 feet. Then came a wedge to 7 feet for birdie on the par-5 16th, and a 5-wood that really ran through the fairway on the 17th, leaving him a baby 9-iron to 3 feet.
“After being 2 over on the front, I would have taken anything close to par,” Stenson said.
As down as he has been over the last year, Stenson is wise enough not to put too much stock into one round. He hit plenty of beautiful shots, and at least he wasn’t surprised to be hitting them. He has worked hard with swing coach Pete Cowen on simplifying his swing, and with mental coach Bob Rotella on keeping a clear mind.
He didn’t say which was more valuable at this stage.
“I’m still not overly confident, but I stayed patient. I hit a lot of beautiful shots out there,” Stenson said. “It’s only the first day and it’s a major championship, and there’s a lot of golf with some tough competitors. But it feels like a bit of a turnaround in terms of what I’m doing with the mental routines and my practice. I hope to build on this.”