SPRINGFIELD, N.J.–The Big Three of Swedish Golf travel their homeland on a first-name basis. All together now: Jesper (Parnevik), Annika (Sorenstam) and Henrik (Stenson). The golf season in Sweden is ridiculously short, which only partly explains why they all live in Florida today, but Swedish interest in the game is actually high. It’s nearly as popular there as bandy.
In the United States, the BT of SG are woefully underappreciated. Parnevek is better known as the man who introduced Tiger Woods to his future wife (Elin Nordegren) than as the man who twice finished second in the British Open. Sorenstam, the winner of 10 majors and 62 other LPGA events—is one of the all-time greats, but how often does her name come up in grillroom conversation? During Colonial week, and maybe not even then.
And then there is the Swede of the moment, Stenson, 40, who despite contending and winning regularly on the PGA Tour and playing on three European Ryder Cup teams, is still best known among U.S. golfers for a certain shot he played at Doral in 2009. Google “Henrik Stenson” and “underwear” and you’ll get more than 80,000 hits.
For the longest time, he was best known for that one heroic shot. But then came Troon, and his three-shot win at the British Open. And now, through 36 holes at the PGA Championship, we find ourselves contemplating the very real possibility that this is…the Summer of Henrik. Yes, Jordan Spieth is coming on here at Baltusrol, and Jason Day and Martin Kaymer are right there. Jimmy Walker’s play has been spectacular. But when you look at the leader board, the name that jumps out is Stenson’s. Scores of 67 and 67 will do it.
Because of the oddness of this year’s schedule, and to borrow an idea from my press-tent neighbor Gary Van Sickle, Stenson could play his way into the World Golf Hall of Fame on the basis of one hot month. Pay attention, people: We could be watching history! Stenson’s epic, record-setting Open at Troon concluded on July 17. The PGA wraps up on Sunday. And then he ships out for Rio and the Olympics and its four-day tournament, which concludes on Aug. 14. There are 60 players in the field, and maybe 20 are capable of beating Stenson over 72 holes. Stenson’s next six rounds could define his public life. Major win. Major win. Olympic gold.
It’s doable. Stenson has always been a superb ball-striker. He drives the ball a mile and he punishes his beloved three-wood. (He joked on Friday that the Callaway people won’t tell him if he has a backup—they don’t want him to even think about making a change.) What Stenson has never done particularly well is putt fast, severely sloped greens. But the greens at Troon were pretty flat and slow. You wouldn’t call the greens at Baltusrol (to generalize) severe. The seaside greens on the course in Rio, built for the Olympics and
He’s a droll man who speaks perfect English in a wildly energetic voice (no, not really) that brings to mind Bernhard Langer. He looked tired after his Friday round at Baltusrol, but he didn’t sound tired. He sounded pretty much as he did after winning the Open, like a man who knows he’s on a roll and is expecting to come out and play solid golf.
“Maybe I’ll run out of steam at some point, but until then I’ll just keep trying my best,” Stenson said. “I expect to be tired at some point, whether it be after the Olympics or after this week. But it’s not something I’m concerned about.”
For years, Swedish golfers had a deserved reputation for technical precision but little creative flair, and that would be true for each of the BT of SG. Annika’s swing was metronomic perfection, but it became less reliable as she got closer to the hole. Jesper and Henrik have semiviolent, tick-tock swings. High-speed swings like theirs tend to produce short bursts of excellent golf—Nick Price would be the ultimate example of this among elite players—but they are not swings that tend to hold up for long periods of time.
Regardless, in the summer of 2016, if you can stay hot for three weeks, you can make yourself a legend forever.