My Shot: Henrik Stenson

Risk + Reward

Henrik Stenson on murdering his golf clubs, making and losing millions, and betting big on porridge

September 2014

I HAVE A TEMPER on the golf course. When my fuses start to melt, I have to react immediately, or else I'm useless the rest of the round. Because I can't punch myself out, I tend to take it out on my clubs. My clubs are my friends, and as such I have a bunch on my conscience for how I've treated them. I've lost count of how many drivers, fairway woods and wedges I've murdered. To the 7-iron I broke during the 2011 U.S. Open—and the clubs I undoubtedly will break in the future—I humbly apologize.

WE SWEDES are descended from Vikings, which might explain why I'm tough on golf clubs. They were a ruthless people who sometimes took out whole villages. I watched a series on them a while back, and I thought, So that's where my temper comes from. Primitive as the times were, the Vikings were highly skilled. If there had been endorsements for hatchets and spears in those days, the Vikings would've had their names on everything.

IN 2001, I was in a period where I had no idea where the ball was going off the tee. My misses could be shockingly bad, 70 yards off line in some cases, usually to the right. Even the practice ranges weren't wide enough. There are fears in golf most amateurs are familiar with. The fear of being embarrassed by missing a short putt. The fear that comes with hanging on to a 1-up lead with two holes to play. But the fear I felt at tournaments was something very different. I was terrified of taking someone's head off with a drive. Standing on the tee, I'd see the tunnel of people just in front of the tee box, craning their necks forward to watch, oblivious to the very real danger they were in. The image of hitting someone would enter my mind and not go away. Coming back from that dark place mentally has probably been my best accomplishment.

IN THEORY, a one-foot putt should be almost impossible to miss. Take aim, close your eyes and move the putter, and the ball will go in. But when you get the brain involved, strange things can happen. The angle of the putterface, the speed of the movement and a million tiny complexities you suddenly become aware of start to make the simplest thing difficult, sometimes impossible. You start compensating for things without knowing what you're compensating for. I've never had the putting yips, only the driver yips. But I have respect for the putting yips and sympathy for the yipper.

I WON the Players Championship in 2009, but I'm not going to make the argument that it's a major. That would be blatantly self-serving. Sure, it has the best field in golf. It has tradition, history, a huge purse, is timed in perfect sequence with the four majors, has no pro-am, gets you a five-year exemption and is played on a strong course. But make the case that it's a major? I wouldn't think of it.

I NEVER MET Allen Stanford, and it's safe to say I won't be visiting him in prison. If I did come face-to-face with him, what I might do to him could get me arrested also. Look, I lost millions to that guy [in a Ponzi scheme]. I didn't have all my eggs in his basket, but I had a lot of eggs there, and it hurt. It was a tough experience, but life has a way of setting things right. Last fall, after I won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, I flew from Atlanta to Orlando more than $11 million richer. The plane that I was on very possibly flew over the federal prison in Florida where he's serving a sentence that could be the rest of his life. There's some satisfaction in that, but I also think of the people who lost a tremendous amount of money to him but weren't fortunate enough to be in a position to make a lot of it back.

I LEARNED of the Stanford loss in February 2009. It affected me, but I got over it emotionally faster than some people might. I was able to pick up the pieces and move on, and it helped that I won the Players Championship only a few months later. I knew that investing carries risk, and as a golfer I'm used to taking risks. Golf is all about assessing risk and deciding how much risk to take. Do I lay up short of the water or go for it? Do I shoot for that tucked pin or go for the middle of the green? A pro golf career is basically a gamble, at least starting out. The annoying thing about the Stanford investment was, I assumed there was only normal risk, when in truth I was destined to lose the whole investment, and not by normal means. Nobody saw that coming. But it all fell under the category of "risk," so I tried to accept it and move on.

TRUE STORY from the European Tour: A well-known caddie was running to catch a train to get to a tournament. There was little time to spare, and he had to go to the bathroom very badly. Just as he gets to the train station, he trips and falls. The impact jars everything loose. Disaster. Fortunately, there's a clothing shop at the station. He shuffles in and buys a track suit, ignoring the wrinkled-up nose of the salesperson. He barely makes the train. Once the train was underway, he goes into the bathroom, takes off every piece of his clothing and throws it out the window. He removes the track suit from the bag and finds, to his horror, that the suit is missing the pants portion. So he turns the top upside down, forces his legs into the sleeves, zips it up and returns to his seat, topless. For hours he absorbs glares from strangers and the conductors. When he arrived at the tournament, he could barely speak for two days. A post-traumatic-stress situation.

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