Henrik Stenson tells NCG Tiger Woods’ Masters win at the age of 43 has injected hope into the tour’s veterans as they prepare to embark on another trip down Magnolia Lane
History – and time – is against Henrik Stenson as he bids to win a second major championship at the Masters in November.
Lost in the fanatical melee that was Tiger Woods’ 15th major championship title was the fact that, at the age of 43, he had become the second oldest player to pull on the Green Jacket, and only the seventh player to do it in his 40s.
Stenson’s only major triumph, at the 2016 Open, came just three months after he left his 30s behind him. The Swede is now 44 and his next two shots both come at Augusta, with the 2021 edition getting underway on his 45th birthday.
But they’re just numbers to Stenson.
“We know that time is never going to be in our favour,” he tells NCG. “But the chances are always there. They debated it quite heavily before [Tiger] won, so for him it was a little bit like ‘OK, I’ll show you.’
“If you look at my success at Troon, I was 40 and Mickelson was 46 at the time. I think between us we had a combined two-ball age that was older than some of the three-balls from earlier in the week. Perhaps elements of links golf, like experience and style of play, favours an older player.
“But if I didn’t think I had a chance I would be quite deflated. My chances certainly aren’t going to be higher in my 40s than they were in my 30s, but there is still a chance – Tiger has proved that.
“I know I can win at Augusta, but it is going to take a near enough flawless performance at my end. That is what I am focusing on, trying to give myself the best chances to get to 100%.”
For Stenson, this will be his 15th attempt at winning golf’s most famous item of clothing, with his best effort coming in a tie for 5th two years ago.
“Augusta is a place where experience counts for a lot,” he explains.“I have played with Bernhard Langer in the past, and he was struggling with his length, but the way he managed his game helped him to play a solid 4-under final round.
“There were a number of years where you saw a few of the old champions, like Langer and Fred Couples, up there on the leaderboard because they knew how to manage their way around the course.
“And it’s hard not to bring up Tiger’s win last year. It really was one for the ages. The struggles he has gone through, both physically and off the golf course, it was certainly special for the golf fans.”
Stenson seems only too keen to stress that, despite the historical context of a Masters win – not just for his age but the fact only 15 players have won a Green Jacket and a Claret Jug – it wouldn’t trump that famous win at Troon.
“I already have the one I really wanted to get!” he says. “At heart, being European, it always felt like the Open was number one. I got the one that was closest to my heart.
“A lot of the American players tend to prefer the Masters and the US Open, but I actually read that Jack Nicklaus had the Masters down as the fourth because, from a competition and achievement perspective, it had fewer players. I know the field is bigger at Augusta now, around the high 90s to 100, but back in the day it may only have been low to mid 80s. If you compare that to some of the other majors that have full 156 player fields, you certainly need to beat fewer players to win at Augusta. That, I think, was the reasoning behind Jack ranking them in that order.
“But I would certainly put Augusta at number two. I would love to be one of the lucky ones to have both the Green Jacket and the Claret Jug, so let’s see if we can give it a push in either November or April. It is certainly not an easy task, but we will give it a shot.”
Stenson’s Masters ambitions, like most players on this side of the Atlantic, are rooted in a childhood of battling to stay awake for four days a year each April.
“It was being broadcast with a six hour time difference, so it normally got pretty late,” he explains. “There was more than one occasion where I fell asleep, even though I didn’t want to, watching the back nine at Augusta on Sunday.
“I started playing golf when I was 11, so my earliest memories of major championships are Augusta and the Open.
“With Augusta being the first major championship of the year there was always that excitement in April, for the start of the golf season in the northern hemisphere.
“For me it was the flowers, the piano music, the finely-trimmed fairways, and the white sand bunkers that give Augusta that really special look.”
One thing that will be drastically different this year, however, is a lack of patrons.
“I have had the opportunity to see Augusta National quite a few times without crowds,” Stenson explains. “Usually I swing by a week or two before and play a practice round.
“The middle of the golf course is quite a big, open area and it’s really the crowds that frame it.
“Aspects like not hearing the back-nine cheers on Sunday or seeing more of a funnel for some of the tee shots will definitely give it a different look and feel. But it means we can move around a bit more freely, to get our preparations and practice done with fewer interruptions.
“But losing that would be a small price to pay to get crowds back. All the players, of course, hope we can get the fans back in and return to something more normal soon.”
So will Stenson prepare differently for a November Masters to an April Masters?
“Not so much,” he says. “So much is in the luck of the weather, depending on what comes our way. You can have a week where it can be raining and high 50s or low 60s (around 15 degrees celcius). Alternatively, you can get a nice crisp fall week with high 60s (20 degrees celcius) and sunny in the afternoon. So it is going to be more sweaters and rain gear.
“I expect it will play softer, longer, and wetter. It will be interesting to see, with Bryson DeChambeau and his length off the tee, and the other players who hit it a long way. It will certainly be an advantage for them if it is cold. They might have a few more reasonable clubs into some of the greens than maybe the rest of us.”
Overall, Stenson is ready for a Masters unlike any other.
“It will be interesting. You have Tiger who has been champion for a year and a half while someone else will be champion for six months. It is going to be a short and sweet ride for whoever wins it, even though you get to keep your Green Jacket, there will be another handed out pretty quickly.”
Finally, we have to know – if he were to win next month, what would Stenson serve at the Champions Dinner in April?
“It can only be Swedish meatballs,” he says in a manner that suggests he’s thought about it a lot. “There are no two ways about it. That one is set in stone.
“I expect any Swede that wins the Masters to serve meatballs. We have decided that here and now.”
Henrik Stenson at the Masters
2006: MC (77-74)
2007: T17 at +9 (72-76-77-72)
2008: T17 at +2 (74-72-72-72)
2009: T38 at +1 (71-70-75-73)
2010: MC (80-75)
2011: MC (83-74)
2012: T40 at +5 (71-71-70-81)
2013: T18 at E (75-71-73-69)
2014: T14 at +1 (73-72-74-70)
2015: T19 at -4 (73-73-70-68)
2016: T24 at +6 (72-75-78-69)
2017: MC (77-75)
2018: T5 at -9 (69-70-70-70)
2019: T36 at -2 (74-72-67-73)
Golfers to win the Masters in their 40s
Jack Nicklaus (1986) – 46 years, 2 months, 22 days
Tiger Woods (2019) – 43 years, 3 months, 14 days
Ben Crenshaw (1995) – 43 years, 2 months, 28 days
Gary Player (1978) – 42 years, 5 months, 8 days
Sam Snead (1954) – 41 years, 10 months, 15 days
Mark O’Meara (1998) – 41 years, 2 months, 29 days
Ben Hogan (1953) – 40 years, 7 months, 29 days
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Henrik Stenson was speaking to NCG as an ambassador for leading healthcare provider Schoen Clinic London. A world-renowned innovator in the treatment and prevention of sports related injuries, Schoen Clinic London is lending its expertise to benefit some of the world’s leading golfers, including Stenson, Georgia Hall, Francesco Molinari and Padraig Harrington. Visit Schoen Clinic London’s website for more.
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