TULSA, Okla. (AP)Henrik Stenson came to the PGA Championship trying to squeeze in an late-career bid for a second career major while keeping one eye focused on 2023 and a tournament half a world away.
The 46-year-old from Sweden is Europe’s captain for the next Ryder Cup in Rome, and he already is plotting the continent’s response – perhaps you could call it revenge – for the beating the Americans dealt last year at Whistling Straits.
He is even counting down the days.
”It’s about 500 days away, and we’d better make use of those 500 days,” Stenson said Wednesday at Southern Hills. ”There’s a lot of wheels that are spinning at the moment. A lot of things in planning.”
That includes fielding a query of just where on his body he’ll get the final score tattooed should the Europeans, who have not lost on home soil since 1993, beat the Americans next year at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.
That’s for vice captain Thomas Bjorn, Stenson said. Bjorn got Europe’s 17 1/2-10 1/2 victory in 2018 tattooed on his backside.
”He knows where to find those spots,” Stenson said. ”He’s got room for another one, doesn’t he?”
Stenson, who won the British Open in 2016 for his only career major, is among the lowest-ranked players in the field this week at No. 224. He has missed the cut five times and has just three top-20 finishes in 11 tournaments this season.
He was granted an exemption for the PGA Championship through his choice to accept the Europe captaincy, along with its prestige, over the riches of a Saudi-funded rival league that has fractured the golfing community.
Stenson was among those who’d been tempted to play in the fledgling lucrative league, but he declined to discuss details of his Ryder Cup contract and the understanding that it included a provision that he would not play there.
Recent results aside, Stenson has a good history at the PGA Championship, twice finishing third, with three more top-10 finishes, and there is ample evidence that age is just a number there. Julius Boros was 48 when he won at Pecan Valley in 1968, Lee Trevino was 44 when he won his second PGA in 1984 and Vijay Singh and Jack Nicklaus were over 40 and won.
Then there’s Phil Mickelson, whose stunning PGA victory last year at age 50 was inspiring for the older golfers on tour.
”I’ve got four more years to prepare, I guess,” Stenson joked.
”We see the younger generation, the kind of firepower they have off the tee and the distances, but there’s more to it than just distance,” Stenson said. ”No matter what your age, if you play your best game and you use all that experience and mental abilities and everything else, you can certainly be up there and win even at a later age and maybe when you don’t have quite the same distance as the 23-year-olds of today.”
Chasing the group in front of him might help. Zach Johnson, the U.S. captain for the Ryder Cup, is playing in the threesome ahead of him Thursday.
”Maybe all of a sudden I can find 20 yards,” Stenson said, noting ”the beating” Johnson put on him in a better-ball match in the 2006 Ryder Cup. ”I’m looking forward to trying to return that favor in Rome.”
Stenson is the first Swede and fifth player from continental Europe to captain. And he’s using this week along with the next several months to chat with European players who may be on the 2023 team, especially those he may not know very well.
”Some of the older players from Europe, I know them very well. We played and traveled together for the last 15, 20 years,” he said. ”But there are some new players on the European side that I don’t know that well. … The more players I can know at an early stage, I think the better it is.”
As for the Americans, they’ve really haven’t needled Stenson about their 2021 victory.
”I think they’re just happy with the outcome,” he said.
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