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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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."