Jesper Parnevik hails ‘King Henrik’

Henrik Stenson celebrates his Open Championship win at Royal Troon on Sunday. Picture: AP
Henrik Stenson celebrates his Open Championship win at Royal Troon on Sunday. Picture: AP
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Jesper Parnevik has revealed how he made a mad dash through Heathrow so that he could watch Henrik Stenson take away his long-worn crown of being Sweden’s best-known male golfer.

“I was actually stuck on a plane,” revealed Parnevik at Carnoustie in the build up to the Senior Open Championship when asked where he’d watched Stenson becoming the first Scandinavian to a men’s major after coming out on top in his epic duel with Phil Mickelson at Troon last weekend.

“I took an early flight from the US so I could get here to watch the whole thing only for it to be cancelled. I had to run and get another flight and ran from the gate to a pub after it arrived in Heathrow so that I could watch the last hole.

“I was so pleased to see that and I watched the highlights later. It was impressive because I remember how tough it was when I finished second to Justin Leonard in 1997. It was almost like a match-play situation in the Ryder Cup when you had two guys feeding off each other - it was fantastic shot after fantastic shot.”

Unlike one of the first occasions Parnevik clapped eyes on his compatriot. “I remember watching him at a Scottish Open, I think, and he couldn’t hit a fairway with any club in the bag,” recalled Parnevik. “I think he’s actually talked about how he almost quit the game during the first of two slumps in his career and that makes what he has achieved all the more impressive.”

Parnevik, of course, achieved a fair bit in his career, winning five PGA Tour titles and four, including the 1993 Scottish Open at Gleneagles, on the European Tour. His Open record was also impressive, finishing runner-up to Nick Price at Turnberry in 199- in addition to that effort behind Leonard at Troon.

No-one, therefore, was more delighted to see Stenson become the first Scandinavian to win a men’s major, adding to 10 successes in the women’s equivalent events by Annika Sorenstam and one each by Helen Alfredsson, Liselotte Neumann and Anna Nordqvist.

“First and foremost, this was a big thing for Swedish golf as we have waited a long time for it,” said Stockholm-born Parnevik, who, like Stenson, is now based in Florida.

“I had a lot close calls and the Swedish females, of course, have spoiled us in the majors. I actually think your man in the street in Sweden probably didn’t know that we hadn’t done before so didn’t actually realise how big it is. It was huge in the press back home.

“If you look at the way Henrik has played over the last five years, it was only a matter of time, really. The cool thing was the way he did it as he played unbelievable over the last two days in particular.

“We had a dinner last night and Tom Watson stood up and said he thought it was better than the “Duel in the Sun” and that says it all.”

Stenson’s success saw him jump to No 5 in the world, meaning he’ll be the top-ranked player heading into the upcoming Olympics in Rio. Before then, the 40-year-old has a chance to win a second major in next week’s US PGA at Baltusrol.

“He’s always had a strong game but on the last two days at Troon I don’t think I’ve ever seen Henrik have a short game - putting in particular - like that,” added Parnevik.

“That was the big difference and if he can keep that going, who knows what he’s going to do over the next few years. Based on the way he played last week, I can certainly see more majors in him.”

Plenty of people can see similarities between Parnevik and Stenson in terms of their personalities. Parnevik was known to eat volcanic dust as a dietary supplement and also wore a baseball cap that had an upturned bill. Stenson is renowned for being one of the game’s jokers.

“He has a very good sense of humour,” said Parnevik. It can be a dry humour at times and some people might not understand his jokes. But he’s a funny guy. He’s a low-key guy, too. He does his own thing.

“But he has been working hard for this for a long time. In think what surprised some people was the manner he did it, playing some superb golf, as, of course, Phil Mickelson did.

Normally if you shoot stat out one behind and shoot 65 in the last round of a major, you’d win doing handstands. It was an extraordinary event that is going to be remembered for a long time.”

Parnevik sent Stenson a tweet before Sunday’s showdown. “It tugged my heart that it seemed to give him a boost, which was fanastic,” he admitted.

After turning 50 in March, Parnevik wasted no time making his presence felt on the Chanmpions Tour with a four-stroke success in the Insperity Invitational.

“That would be fantastic,” he replied to being asked what it would mean if he could follow up Stenson’s victory by claiming the over-50s Claret Jug this weekend.

“It would actually be a trifecta, of course, because Alex Noren also won the Scottish Open. But I can’t say that I’m in great form. I’ve not played since the Senior Players’ Championship in mid-June. I’ve been over in Sweden doing family stuff. I’ve only hit off mats a couple of times in preparation for this.

“But I love playing this kind of golf and Carnoustie is one of the best courses we play. There’s not an easy hole out there and even on a beautiful day like Tuesday you were standing over tee shots and second shots I was worrying how I could get it to the green because those bunkers are endless. There’s danger everywhere out there.”