The Scandinavian Mixed event may have been put back until 2021, but the unique format means it will be well worth the wait. Co-host Henrik Stenson tells us more...
Henrik Stenson Exclusive – “It’s Going To Be Great For Golf”
Henrik Stenson spent the start of the year cruising round the California countryside in a 40-foot RV. No golf clubs. This is how the Swede likes to relax. He’s not winding things down, even if after 20 years on tour he could be forgiven for taking his foot off the gas.
Let’s recap: 11 European Tour victories, one Claret Jug, an Olympic silver medal, five Ryder Cups, twice Europe’s number one and, most importantly – if you share Paul Azinger’s opinion – a multiple PGA Tour winner and FedExCup champion.
This season, however, was meant to be one of the Swede’s busiest ever, with a new focus – the Scandinavian Mixed.
Several new tournaments have been added to the schedule in recent years, but when this event was jointly announced by the European Tour and Ladies European Tour last year, it immediately jumped out as one to pencil in the diary – and not just because Stenson and one of the game’s greatest ever players, Annika Sorenstam, would be hosting.
Unfortunately, coronavirus means it’s been put back until 2021, but the unique format means it’s definitely one to look forward to.
It will comprise 78 men and 78 women going head-to-head for the first time on the same course (Bro Hof Slott Golf Club in Stockholm) to compete for one prize fund and one trophy. It was at the forefront of Stenson’s mind when we spoke to him.
Setting an example
“It’s the first edition and there are always going to be a few little uncertainties, but it’s going to be exciting,” a buoyant Stenson says. “Same course, one prize fund, one first prize. Whether it’s a male or female who wins, it’s just going to be one champion.
“It’s very good for Sweden. I think it’s going to be great for golf. I’m proud to be hosting with Annika. She’s a legend of the game.”
It’s an event the 44-year-old is extremely passionate about, especially as a father of three young children. He’s played over 600 events as a professional, but this one carries extra significance.
“We need to have a tournament for all the young girls to see their European Tour stars play,” says Stenson, who counts himself lucky to have discovered golf through a friend when he was ten years old.
“We’ve [Sweden] had such a strong trail of women, even long before Annika, and after her. This has been such a great collective move to get a great week in, to get everyone that’s interested in golf in Sweden and Scandinavia to come out and watch everyone. We’ve always been at the forefront of equal rights and equal pay. We’re setting an example.”
Co-host Sorenstam shares her compatriot’s excitement. “When the European Tour approached me and Henrik, we both jumped at the opportunity,” the ten-time Major winner says. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, I really do. I hope everybody can enjoy the format as it is.
“To grow the game, you have to come up with some different formats. If you’re a golf fan I think you like to watch men and women.”
Sadly – and it’s the only disappointment surrounding the event – the former World No.1 could not be tempted to come out of retirement. Make no mistake, she’ll be as focused as ever in the Pro-Am, but during the tournament itself, she’ll be mic’d up. “I think I can be more engaged if I don’t play,” she adds.
“When you play… knowing myself I’m very competitive [laughs]. I can be more involved as an ambassador because I’m not focusing on my own game. I told Henrik, you do the playing part and I’ll do the other part, and maybe I can give you the trophy on Sunday.”
More to give
Prior to postponements and cancellations, a return to Sweden had been at the centre of Stenson’s plans. He was looking to “rev it up” again and rediscover his best form. His A-game was within reach, as he showed in December, when he ended a two-year drought with victory at the Hero World Challenge. It doesn’t matter what your resume says, in this game everyone goes cold.
In The Bahamas, though, we saw the old Henrik. Exhibition event or not, most of the world’s best golfers were there. Another point worth noting: at 43, Stenson was the second oldest player in the field. Age, as they say, is just a number.
“The golf course doesn’t know if you’re 20, 30 or 40 when you’re teeing it up,” says the former World No.2. “It’s all about bringing as good a game as you can, and we know experience is key in golf. At times, we can’t really compete with the longest players in the game, but we can compete with other factors.
“That’s something we try to do as good as we can, and yes, we certainly keep the dreams alive of winning golf tournaments.”
By “we”, he means the ‘forty-somethings’.
At present, there are only two members – Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell, winners of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and Saudi International, respectively.
Stenson is delighted to see his ‘old’ friends keeping “the young guys at bay”, and he believes there’s room in the club for a few more vets.
“I guess we pace ourselves,” he says, prior to a pretty intense session on the range with his coach, Pete Cowen. “I don’t know if it’s down to possibly the swing. If your swing is not taking too much toll on your body and not wearing your back down too much, you probably can keep it going.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on the physical side the last ten years to try and buy myself some extra time, and for recovery and practice.
“I guess both Lee and myself, we’ve been solid ball-strikers, and if you have a good foundation to fall back on, you can be out here a long time.”
A legendary career
This doesn’t include £20 the Swede took off his English friend when they played one of their first rounds together at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
“We were far back in the field,” Stenson smiles. “I guess we needed some motivation, so I ended up taking 20 quid from him on the back nine. I know we’re not supposed to be betting against each other, but we needed something to spark.”
Rarely does he need extra motivation. No one is more electrifying to watch as the Swede when he catches fire. When he wins, he has a tendency to make it look rather easy.
Royal Troon, 2016: Duel in the Sun II is just one example. Only Phil Mickelson could keep pace with Stenson. JB Holmes finished 14 shots back in third.
It was a masterclass, but it poses the question: should a player of his quality have won more? Possibly, but 18 sounds like a decent haul. In any case, he’s optimistic that more titles will follow, despite the ever-growing number of big hitters threatening to make golf more of a power game than it’s ever been.
“I’m 44 this year, so I don’t expect to be hitting it further, but I hopefully don’t hit it that much shorter, either,” he jokes. Talk of “natural regression” sounds alarming, but ‘The Iceman’ isn’t overly concerned.
Maybe it helps when you look ten years younger than you are. Something to do with a Nordic diet, perhaps, and life in the Sunshine State of Florida. “On a good day I can hit it 290, maybe not 300 anymore, but my limit’s always been around there.
My strength is my mid-iron play, so a lot of times it doesn’t matter too much if I’m hitting a 6-iron or 7-iron for my approach.”
Farewell, old friend
Talking of strengths, it was somewhat fitting that a trademark shot should lay the foundations for that victory at the Hero World Challenge, his 259-yard approach on the par-5 15th almost dropping for an albatross. Stenson and his woods – one of golf’s most pleasing sights and sounds.
The face of the famous Callaway Diablo Octane 3-wood may have finally caved in after many years of loyal service, but he’s enjoying the opportunity to try a few new options.
“I thought I’d look for the newer and better technology, rather than go into the garage for another one,” he says. “I’m pretty pleased. I’m not saying I’m done with testing, but technology moves on and I can accept the old one is retired.”
It may be some time before we see another of those sweetly struck woods. The postponement of the Scandinavian Mixed is a huge shame, especially for those involved with its creation.
“The European Tour has been innovative and tried to come up with some new concepts,” says Stenson. Whenever it happens, be sure not to miss it. No matter how long we have to wait, it’ll be worth it.
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