Henrik Stenson’s celebration to mark his Open Championship win may be deemed lavish in certain contexts.
In respect of golf, it will be pretty understated.
“He will get on his boat in Copenhagen then sail into Malmo with his wife and three children,” Gareth Lord, Stenson’s caddie, said. “Nothing outlandish. He is a family man, that’s what makes him tick.”
Lord knows the inner workings of this champion better than anyone. His popular alliance with the Swedish golfer had returned everything but a major title until Sunday, when a sensational Royal Troon climax led to Stenson lifting the Claret Jug. A record-breaking round of 63, which was sufficient to see off Phil Mickelson in the thrilling two-horse race, captivated all who looked on. “If he had shot 10 over and won, he would have been delighted,” Lord said. “This was different. We were sitting with the IMG [Stenson’s management] guys late on Sunday night going through all the facts and figures of what Henrik achieved. Because we honestly had no idea. We sat there for an hour, Henrik looked at me and said ‘Wow.’ It was surreal.”
Equally noteworthy effusive praise came from Jack Nicklaus. “Phil Mickelson played one of the best rounds I have ever seen played in the Open and Henrik Stenson just played better,” the 18-time major winner said. “He played one of the greatest rounds I have ever seen.
“He drove the ball well; his iron game was great; his short game was wonderful; and his putting was great. Henrik was simply terrific. To win your first major championship is something special in itself, but to do it in the fashion Henrik did it in makes for something very special and incredibly memorable.”
A mutual friend of Lord and Stenson agreed a bet more than a year ago. That was, should the 40-year-old win a major then his caddie would have to give up smoking. “We were on the 7th tee on Sunday, I was drawing on a cigarette,” Lord recalled. “Henrik said: ‘Enjoy that. You have about two and a half hours left.’
“That’s when I knew how obviously up for it he was, how much he fancied himself. He wouldn’t be the type to tell anyone beforehand that he thought or knew he would win but that was a sign. He has kept his half of the deal, now I will do my bit.”
Despite the ultimately emphatic nature of Stenson’s victory, there were several moments of anxiety. This was only natural, given Mickelson’s competitive spirit and record of five major titles. Even on the 72nd hole, Stenson came perilously close to finding a fairway bunker from the tee.
“It was 280m, 308 yards to that bunker and the wind was a hair from behind,” Lord said. “I knew Henrik wanted to use his three wood, he always will when he is under the cosh. I told him I couldn’t see it reaching that bunker ... but it might. He absolutely leathered it. ‘It will be fine, won’t it?’ he asked. We just looked at each other. The ball actually disappeared then reappeared, it was only when we were 30 yards off the tee we were sure it wasn’t in the bunker. It was only 30 yards from the ball that he knew he had a stance. A bit of luck doesn’t hurt, we have had plenty against us at other times.
“After 13 holes, I hoped one of the guys won it as opposed to someone losing it. The golf over the weekend, not just Sunday, had been such a standard that neither or them deserved to throw it away. When Henrik holed from off the green on 15, I thought to myself ‘You don’t hole putts like that if it isn’t your time. Come on, let’s finish it now, this one is for us.’
“But we still had to do it. Phil hit a putt on 16 that looked in all the way and missed. On 17, I was thinking a four-shot lead playing the last would be handy and we ended up stuck on two. Then we ended up a foot and a half from the bunker on 18.”
Lord, himself once a prominent amateur golfer in the Midlands, revealed the failure which wounded Stenson most was not even a major. “Probably the FedEx Cup last year, funnily enough,” he said.
“Jordan Spieth did our heads in, in the nicest possible sense. Henrik flushed the ball tee to green and holed nothing. Jordan wasn’t at his best and did us in by holing everything. You need to remember there were eight second places [for Stenson] in 2015.
“If he hadn’t won [the BMW International Open] in Germany a few weeks ago, he would have struggled to win this. He won’t mind me saying that. It had been 19 months since he had won, breaking that run was a huge step.”
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