Every once in a while, a golf announcer will refer to Henrik Stenson as “The Terminator,” a tribute to his muscular physique and the steely-eyed glare he gets in the heat of competition.
The man from Sweden is many things, a living, breathing paradox of good and bad. He has overcome much in his professional golf career, ranging from having significant success to losing a significant portion of his accumulated wealth to a Ponzi scheme, to losing all confidence in his driver, to becoming an absolute beast on golf’s highest level, to winning the 2013 FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship.
One thing he isn’t is a major champion, although there is every reason to believe that’s a detail that will soon be checked off his list very soon, perhaps even in 2014. What Stenson has endured throughout his career has given him the mental fortitude to play under difficult circumstances, and the changes he's made to his game have turned him one into of the best players in the world the last half of the 2013 season.
It certainly seems to me that he’s now, at age 37, ready to not only compete on a regular basis in a major, but also win one.
Stenson had a second-place finish in the Open Championship and a third in the PGA Championship this year and finished in the top 25 in all four majors.
His biggest wins on the PGA Tour came in the 2007 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and 2009 Players Championship.
The latter moved him to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Rankings, but he slumped badly in 2010, rebounded a bit in 2011 and came into 2012 ranked 230th in the world, thanks in large part to his being unable to control his driver.
But in the week preceding the Open Championship this year, he was a playoff loser to Phil Mickelson in the Scottish Open. He finished second again to Mickelson at Muirfield, and from that point on, he’s been unbelievable.
In eight starts, beginning with the Scottish, Stenson has registered six top-five finishes.
His performance at East Lake Golf Club was not perfect, to be sure, but boy was it good.
This was a man who bludgeoned that historic layout with a 3-wood off the tees. He knew how important it was to hit fairways there and also knew that he was capable of hitting that particular club nearly 300 yards.
So why even consider the big stick? Seems to me that’s the thinking of a man who knows what it takes to win one of golf’s four biggest events.
His statistics at East Lake painted the picture not only of a champion today, but of how a major champion would go about winning one of those coveted titles.
With that 3-wood off the tees, Stenson averaged 331 yards per measured drive. That was only good for a tie for 58th, but he hit 64.3 of the fairways, tied for third.
He was tied for ninth in sand saves, tied for first in greens in regulation, third in strokes gained putting and second in putts per greens in regulation.
How his mental toughness can be questioned after his performance this year is puzzling.
But it's even more so, considering the fact he has come back from the crippling financial setback he suffered when he lost possibly millions of dollars in the Stanford Group Ponzi scheme.
All of that started a few months before his Players Championship victory in 2009 and resulted in the funds he had invested in the company being frozen and eventually lost.
An exact total of how much he lost has remained unknown, but it can be safely guessed it wasn’t a small sum.
Combine Sunday’s double victory—the FedEx Cup title and the Tour Championship—with the nearly $5 million he had won coming into this week, and it can be assumed Stenson’s financial outlook is just as rosy as his major championship outlook.
Phil Mickelson is the latest golfing great to win a major title after age 35, something he’s done three times. Ben Hogan (eight), Sam Snead (five) and Jack Nicklaus (six) were quite successful in that regard as well.
No player of Swedish descent had won the FedEx Cup in its brief history before Stenson did so on Sunday. It should be noted that no Swede has ever won a major, either.
Based on what we saw the last three months from Stenson, can you think of any reason why he wouldn’t be the guy?
Mark me down as being all in on Henrik Stenson.
The guy has a good sense of humor and shows it occasionally on the course. He also has proven to have a bit of a temper, one that he normally keeps in check.
The FedEx Cup playoffs got it right this year. Stenson was the best player in golf since July and earned the title.
Does that mean he’ll automatically be the best player once the calendar rolls over to 2014? No, there are no such guarantees in golf.
But his experience this year is going to make him a favorite every time he tees it up next year.
And that includes the majors.