The effect of the Stanford scandal on Stenson’s golf was crippling. He plummeted to 207th in the world rankings at the end of 2011, having been as high as eight two years earlier. That he is now a career-best fifth in those standings after becoming the first Scandinavian to win a men’s major is a credit to the 40-year-old. But, while he may be golf’s joker in the pack, his bitterness towards Stanford remains. And who can blame him?
“I never met Stanford and it’s safe to say I won’t be visiting him in prison,” Stenson said in an interview in 2012 with Golf Digest. “If I did come face-to-face with him, then what I’d do to the guy could get me arrested also. I didn’t have all my eggs in his basket, but I had a lot of eggs in there and it hurt. It was a tough experience, but life has a way of setting things right.
“Last year, after I won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, I actually flew from Atlanta to my home in Orlando having collected more than $11million. And when I was on the plane I worked out that I was flying over the federal prison in Florida where he’ll likely be for the rest of his life. Yeah, there was satisfaction in that. But it was more thinking about all those people who lost a tremendous amount of money to him but weren’t fortunate enough to be in a position to make a lot of it back.”
Stenson walked away from Royal Troon with a cheque for £1.175m. Similar to Dustin Johnson in the US Open a month earlier, it was no real surprise to see him become a first-time major winner, though Stenson’s achievement shades the two given that he struck a blow for the older guys and also, of course, was carrying a nation’s monkey on his back. Annika Sorenstam, of course, was the dominant force in the women’s game at one point, rising to world No 1 and landing 10 majors, including a Women’s British Open in 2003.
Until Sunday, though, there had only been disappointment for her male counterparts, particularly for Jesper Parnevik, who led going into the final round at Troon before finishing second there in 2007, having already been runner-up at Turnberry three years earlier,
“It’s been there a long time,” acknowledged Stenson of the potential for Swedish golf, the trail on the European Tour having been blazed for him and Alex Noren, who, of course, won the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart seven days earlier by the likes of Parnevik, Anders Forsbrand, Mats Lanner, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Pierre Fulke, Ove Sellberg and Jarmo Sandelin.
“I feel very privileged to be the one to hold this trophy. There’s been many great players from my country tried in past years and decades and there’s been a couple of really close calls. Jesper in particular twice. So he sent me a message, “Go out and finish what I didn’t manage to finish,” and I’m really proud to have done that. This win is going to be massive for golf in Sweden.”
Ever since Stenson, having graduated from the Challenge Tour by finishing No 1 on the feeder circuit in 2000, made his European Tour breakthrough in no time - he won the Benson & Hedges International the following year - the Gothenburg man had been widely expected to be the player to finally land one of the game’s top titles for Scandinavian golf.
“It was annoying, yes,” replied Stenson, laughing, to being asked why Swedish players had been unable to translate title triumphs on both the European Tour and PGA Tour into the game’s four biggest events. “We had it back when Padraig won at Carnoustie, ‘When are we going to have a European major winner?’ Then he managed to do that, and then there’s always another question. I’m European, so this was the one that was closest to my heart and I’m delighted to have won it.”
Stenson is now set to head into the Olympics in Rio next month as the top-ranked player. He’s relishing the prospect of going for golf. First, though, he has the small matter of another major, next week’s US PGA Championship at Baltusrol in New Jersey. It will be an opportunity to make it three wins in four events, having received a timely boost heading into this hectic summer schedule by ending a fallow spell in the BMW International Open in Cologne last month.
“In the last 15-18 months, I had a lot of great opportunities to win a few times,” he reflected. “I didn’t finish the job the way I wanted and on a few of them it was a couple of youngsters from America did some good stuff and denied me the wins in particular in ‘15. So the win in Germany was huge to get one over the finish line. You feel the pressure coming in and with not having won for a while, that always kind of builds up. It was great to get that win there. That definitely helped this week, and I felt that extra confidence was going to be huge for me coming into this week. For some reason, I felt like this is my time, and it was.”
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.