In the last minutes of Henrik Stenson’s warmup on the range for the final round of the Tour Championship, NBC had a few minutes devoted to his preparation. After virtually guaranteeing that he would win in yesterday’s post, “Henrik Stenson: Looking Good for a Sunday Walk in the Park,” I was very interested in watching those few swings. It was akin to “expert” handicappers down at the paddock watching the horses being paraded to the track hoping for some telltale sign that would secure their bet.
But in my case, I’d already placed my bet, in writing, for all the world to see. (I’m not just speaking metaphorically in this instance; I have been astounded to discover that readers come to Eye On The Tour from around the world on a daily basis.) And what I saw in those few swings almost made me want to hedge my bet with a timely update.
The first thing I noticed was that Stenson, a player with a quick tempo anyway, looked a lot quicker to me. One of the things that happens when you can’t quite find your swing is that you try to paper over your confusion with faster, more effortful swings. The speed and effort becomes a poor proxy for what you can’t feel.
Couple that with Stenson turning back to either his caddie or his coach with a concerned, quizzical look on his face — I guessed that it was his caddie without his bib on — to get feedback on what he was doing. The caddie made some comments, gesticulating with his hands, Stenson frowned and turned back to try to “fix” whatever was “out.”
You know, it’s — it’s a funny one. Confidence can turn around very quickly in this game, but it can take quite a long time as well. You know, it’s still something I think every player, no matter how good or bad you play, you still have to kind of battle certain feelings certain times, certain shots you don’t like, and it’s no different for me.
That comment was in response to how long it took him to regain his confidence from two deep career slumps. But the absence of confidence inherent in those slumps was the same lapse in confidence I glimpsed in his eyes and in his exchanges with his caddie.
So finally we join him on the first tee, standing there between the tee markers, ready, with the honor and his 3-wood, waiting to be announced by the starter. And no doubt trying to congeal his thoughts for this moment. Trying to find a calm way to get beyond this — like it or not — determinative moment.
“Ladies and gentlemen. On the first tee, from Jupiter, Florida, Dustin Johnson!” Stenson was suddenly filled with confusion and you could see an impulse to step aside to spare the announcer any embarrassment and allow his fellow competitor to take the tee. But she immediately realized her mistake and correctly announced Stenson. But it had been a burble in the attempted seamlessness of his buildup to that first drive. I looked to see if it had broken the ice — Stenson smiled and has such a good sense of humor — but it was hard to tell.
He teed his ball up, went through his pre-shot routine and sailed his 3-wood high-right into the rough. Not a good sign for someone who had been beating his 3-wood long and straight into the fairways all week long. He only had 135 yards to the hole and he was able to punch a shot up onto the green and make his par. And that was probably the best circumstances he could have had for a second shot because it forced him to hit a golf shot rather than trying to mimic an overanalyzed swing from the range.
But the measure of Tour players isn’t so much about exploiting those gorgeous swings to good effect all the time — nobody can do that — it’s about being able to get it around and post a decent score when they can’t feel their way to those swings:
Well, I mean, it was a tough day, absolutely. I mean, especially with so many things going on at the same time here.
I kind of knew, well, even if I don’t win today, I could still win the FedExCup. Do you want to focus on that? At the end of the day, it was all about going out there and trying my best and try to win this golf tournament because then I knew I was going to leave with two trophies.
That was the hard bit to put everything aside, as always, and focus on the right things. I didn’t play my best round today, but I was hanging in there, took the right decisions.
The only problem really was on 14, when I hit it over the back of the green with a flier, which is the only place I shouldn’t go. Other than that, I was hanging in there tough and making the saves when I needed to. Made a couple of nice birdies.
So I was very, very pleased with the way I was performing today.
Add to all of that the fact that Stenson was cruising trying to sustain his 4-shot lead he began the day with. His strategy was to make nice safe pars and birdies when he could. He felt that if he did that, his pursuers would have to play better than him to beat him plus make up the four strokes. But by the 14th hole, he’d only made two birdies. And then he bogeyed 14. He got it right back on 15, but things got a little tight there for a hole.
Wunderkind, Jordan Spieth, playing like, “I have nothing to lose,” was storming up the board with 7 birdies in 10 holes beginning on the 7th hole. When Stenson made his one bogey, Spieth was 7-under on the day and had him down to just a 1-stroke lead with four holes to play. When Stenson birdied back on 15 it went back to two strokes and with Spieth’s late bogey on 17, the eventual 3-stroke margin.
Nevertheless, it was a fascinating performance by both players that kept us involved down to the very end. And given all of the exemplary talents that Stenson displayed during the week, it was only fitting that he took both the Tour Championship and FedExCup trophies home. And the $11.44 million. (Spieth’s haul was $1.408 million in Championship purse and Cup bonus money. He already had the Rookie of the Year locked up; this was just an emphatic punctuation mark.)
Plus Stenson made my blog post predicting his win look like I knew what I was talking about.