The Interview: Henrik Stenson
The global golfing circuit swings into the Gulf this week, as the world’s top players take to the tees at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championships. The strong field will feature four of the world’s Top 6, including crowd-favourites Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson and world number one Jordan Speith – making his debut in the UAE capital.
Ahead of the event, we spoke to former UAE resident and world number five, Henrik Stenson:
ESQ: Out of 10, how would you rate your 2015 season?
HS: I’d probably give myself an eight. I was a little frustrated not to win a tournament given how well I played. But finishing second on six occasions is something I can take many positives from and can build on in 2016. As a professional golfer you are judged on what you win, but sometimes you have to put your hands up and admit that you have been beaten by some exceptional golf, played by some of the best players in the world.
ESQ: You’re somewhat of a local out here…
HS: I lived in the Gulf for nearly 10 years when my children were younger, so it’s a region that always holds a special place in my heart. In terms of golfing, I’ve won nearly half of my European Tour titles in the UAE. It’s lucky for me and I love coming back.
ESQ: How do the courses in the region compare to the rest of the world?
HS: I really enjoy desert golf. The courses are always in immaculate condition and the Abu Dhabi National Course has some of the best greens we play on during the whole year. Being able to spend January in warm weather is also never a bad thing.
ESQ: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith and Rickie Fowler are all set for Abu Dhabi. What are your thoughts ahead of the event?
HS: The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is one of the most competitive events on the European Tour, and having guys like Rory, Jordan and Rickie come over to play it says a lot about its stature. For sure it is going to be harder for me to get my hands on the famous falcon trophy, but you always want to beat the best players in the world and with Jordan currently holding that top spot, he’s the man to beat.
ESQ: You’re on the first tee on Thursday morning. What goes through your head?
HS: The thing is, a tournament can’t be won with the opening shot, so whether it is the first shot of the week or the last I try to go through my pre-shot routine and focus on where I want to go and a simple swing that will get the ball there. If my round isn’t going well, you don’t want to know all the thoughts that go through my head!
ESQ: What do you do away from the course?
HS: I love watching big sporting events in the city where we’re playing. I also love watching the F1 and tennis on the TV.
ESQ: What’s been the stand-out moment of your career?
HS: It’s hard to name one because I feel like my career has been a bit of a roller coaster. My chipped eagle at the Belfry’s in 2001 is one that stands out. That shot helped set up my first career win on the European Tour. I’ll also never forget holing the winning putt in the 2006 Ryder Cup, and the whole atmosphere around that week was crazy. To date, my victory in the 2009 Players Championship is arguably my biggest, so naturally that means a lot to me. Also, topping the ‘money list’ on both the US and European tours in 2013 was huge for my confidence. I had struggled for a couple of years and was doubting if I would ever get back to the top.
ESQ: What is something people don’t know about you?
HS: Those mini Coke bottles are my favourite candy.
ESQ: Is it true that you were almost in a car crash in Abu Dhabi?
HS: Yeah, it is! I was on my way to the National Course for the first round in 2007 and a delivery truck in front of us suddenly veered and pushed us off the road in to the sand. Fortunately, no one was hurt and there were just a few scratches to my car. I was late to the course that day but managed to quickly hit some balls, get some food and somehow managed to shoot six under par! It must have been the adrenaline. On day two we had a smooth ride to the course and I only shot one under par, so obviously I need a bit of drama in my life.
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Henrik Stenson will be competing in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, January 21 to 24. For more, visit abudhabigolfchampionship.com