For Henrik Stenson, this was tame. The navy sweater and iconic chalice looming over his right shoulder demanded a more subdued side of the Swede, and on his first day on the job, he played the role of European Ryder Cup captain.
“We’re up for a challenge," said Stenson, every bit the stoic front-man at his introductory press conference. "We saw a very strong American team at Whistling Straits, but we also saw that coming into Paris."
There will be time for the 45-year-old to flex his comedic chops before the matches are played next year in Rome. But this, following weeks of rumors and speculation, was serious.
The five-time Ryder Cup star for Europe was an easy choice on paper. He served as a vice captain last year in Wisconsin, he scored the winning point in 2006 in Ireland and fits seamlessly into the team room.
The problem was Stenson, as well as a handful of other Europeans, have been linked to the Saudi-backed super golf league, and as the game’s institutions took sides in the surreal tug of war, the captaincy became leverage, which is a word that’s become weaponized by both sides of the super league conversation.
With the proper aplomb, Stenson set the record straight when asked if Tuesday’s announcement ended his interest, either real or media manufactured, with the super league: “There’s been a lot of speculation back and forth and as I said, I am fully committed to the captaincy and Ryder Cup Europe,” he said.
Stenson, who said his goal was to become a “players captain,” wasn’t completely buttoned-up, and he acknowledged that he will put his unique stamp on the ’23 captaincy.
“They are going to get Henrik,” he smiled. “I don’t see myself changing that much. They [the players] are the important thing.”
For those who have covered the quick-witted Stenson for nearly two decades, the real Henrik will bring a much-needed jolt of levity to the matches. With the exception of the winning team’s press conference on Sunday, which is always fueled by an open bar and profound relief, the Ryder Cup has a tendency of taking itself too seriously.
That won’t be a problem for Stenson. Even Guy Kinnings, the well-dressed director of Ryder Cup Europe, acknowledged that a Stenson captaincy will be different.
“As we know Mr. Stenson also has a finely tuned, dry sense of humor, and we look forward to Henrik putting his stamp on it,” Kinnings said.
On Tuesday, that schtick was largely suppressed by the occasion. There were glimpses of what to expect over the next year and a half, like when he was asked what Europe learned from last year’s loss at Whistling Straits: “Can you guarantee that [U.S. captain Zach Johnson] and the PGA aren’t listening in?” he smirked.
And then there was this exchange when he was asked for his captaining bona fides: “I’ve been Captain Chaos a few times,” he laughed. “Always left back in the locker room.”
For most of Tuesday’s introduction, however, Stenson colored between the lines. It’s what the moment called for but not at all a complete representation of what type of captain he’ll be.
Perhaps the best, and most recent, example of Henrik being Henrik occurred last year at the Hero World Challenge when Stenson and Jordan Spieth played from the wrong tee box and were penalized two strokes. We strongly recommend you Google the exchange and watch the video because print can’t really do the moment justice, but Stenson was on form:
“It was only two shots each, so it wasn’t a big deal,” Stenson deadpanned while Spieth laughed.
“My question was if we could finish 19th and 20th [in the field] and just leave after nine [holes],” Stenson added.
“He did, he asked them if we could just leave and go to the airport,” Spieth said while choking back laughter.
The interview ended with Stenson playfully warning Spieth to stop talking: “Quiet, now they’ll be like look at these guys, they don’t know who is going to hit, once they figured out who is hitting one guy is teeing up in front [of the tee box] and then they don’t know what tee box to play. I guess we got what we deserved,” Stenson shrugged.
The moment was quintessential Henrik, making the best of an awkward or tense situation. The Ryder Cup is filled with awkward and tense situations, which is why Stenson will be a welcome addition to next year’s matches.