It may be 1999 since a player from the game’s cradle has lifted the Claret Jug, but five of the past six Open champions have been “made in Scotland”. Henrik Stenson, after all, joined Darren Clarke (2011), Ernie Els (2012), Phil Mickelson (2013) and Rory McIlroy (2014) in winning golf’s oldest major the week after the Scottish Open.
Add in the fact that the top four and five of the top seven played in this year’s event at Castle Stuart and it’s easy to see why 2014 Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, among others, believed they had definitely gained an edge in terms of “prep” for the Troon test.
Stenson hadn’t played in the Scottish Open since 2013, the year he then finished second to Mickelson at Muirfield. In suggesting to him on his return to the Inverness venue it had been the spark three years earlier for his rise back up the world rankings after a spell in the doldrums, this correspondent started some wonderful banter with the Swede that continued right through to him sitting with the Claret Jug in front of him.
Me: “Did you need that performance to get back your confidence?”
Stenson: “I know you’re Scottish. I know what you want me to say (laughter). All the success I had in ‘13 (he won both the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai) was down to me playing well here and I owe it all to my Scottish fans and I’m looking forward to seeing them again this week.”
After he’d catapulted into contention at halfway at Royal Troon, I then asked him how helpful putting the Scottish Open back on his schedule has been in preparing for The Open?
“What did you want me to say last week?” he replied, smiling. “You wanted me to say I was second at The Open due to playing at Castle Stuart and now you’re heading there again. You’re a very loyal Scotsman, aren’t you?
“No, it’s just good to play. You’ve got to get some rounds on links. Whether you go somewhere and play five rounds or three rounds on links courses or you want to compete.
“For me it’s always good to compete because it gets me into that competitive mode. I sometimes have a bit of a hard time going from practice mode to competition.
“So, yeah, it was good to be back. Certainly had a tough test on that Thursday up at Castle Stuart.
“So, yeah, of course I owe everything for me being in good position here to playing at the Scottish Open (laughter).”
He had the Media Centre chuckling again when, after nudging ahead of Mickelson, I suggested he’d probably be disappointed not to be asked a “Scottish question” and replied “aye”.
He also poked fun at our weather. “The sun will come up on Monday,” he said in pointing out that it wouldn’t be the end of his world if he lost out to Mickelson on the final day. “Maybe not in Scotland, but in other parts of the world! But, yes, it would mean that just little bit extra to win it in Scotland, aye.”
He must surely have known what was coming in his winner’s press conference. Judging by the laughter from media colleagues in the room, they did, too.
Me: “I’m sure you feel that adding the Scottish Open back to your schedule has paid off, do you?”
Stenson: “Here we go again. All right, I’ll play the Scottish Open next year. Yes, I will.”
Me: “It was a good decision though, wasn’t it, really?”
Stenson: “I knew I had to do something to get prepared for the Open Championship, and the last couple of years going early, practising a little bit hasn’t quite done it. S
“So I went back to the formula I did for 2013, and from here on it would be kind of stupid not to keep that one going, I think.”
That is terrific news for the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event’s first visit to Dundonald Links in Ayrshire and he’s sure to be joined by other big names as they prepare for the next Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
That trend of Claret Jug winners, after all, is certainly no coincidence.