When Henrik Stenson holed a lengthy birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Royal Troon to complete victory in The 145th Open, it was immediately apparent he had achieved something truly special.
The popular Swede had not only secured a long-awaited maiden major title, 15 years after first appearing in The Open. He had done so in record-breaking fashion, shooting 63 in the final round and posting the lowest aggregate score in major history with a 20-under total of 264.
Throw in the fact that Stenson’s win was sealed after an epic duel with Phil Mickelson, who ended the Championship 11 strokes clear of third-placed JB Holmes, and it was evident this was an Open that would live long in the memory.
However, while a fist-pumping Stenson could instantly celebrate on the 18th green, the magnitude of his victory would become much clearer in the hours, days, weeks and months that followed.
As he gradually came to terms with the fact he was now a Champion Golfer, Stenson was able to take more and more pleasure from the greatest achievement of his illustrious career.
For a Champion, the hours after any major win can best be described as hectic.
“All the people that text you five minutes afterwards and ask if you can talk, they’re not quite on the page with what’s going on,” Stenson explains with his customary dry humour.
“I think it was almost three hours after I holed out before I actually got to leave the golf course.
“It’s the presentation, the press conference, the official photos, pictures with my wife and caddie and parts of the team and friends that were there. It’s (interviews with the) BBC, it’s R&A, it’s Troon Golf Club, Swedish television, Golf Channel. You’re running around like a headless chicken basically for three hours afterwards.”
The flurry of congratulatory interviews and positive media attention certainly hammered home the impact of Stenson’s victory.
“It’s fantastic – you get all the appreciation,” he added. “I was over the moon, but to see so many people happy on my behalf was certainly a very nice feeling.”
Upon leaving Royal Troon, Stenson soon received a further reminder of why his triumph was so significant.
Success in The Open represented a momentous personal breakthrough, but also a first major triumph by a Swedish male.
Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson, Annika Sorenstam and Anna Nordqvist had all previously won majors for Stenson’s country, but he and his male compatriots had endured a succession of a painful near-misses dating back to 1994.
That was the year when Jesper Parnevik looked certain to win The Open at Turnberry, only to be pipped to the post as he bogeyed the 18th and Nick Price made a spectacular eagle on the penultimate hole.
Anders Forsbrand was tied-fourth in the same Championship and Sweden would go on to record a further 15 top-five finishes in men’s majors over the next two decades without tasting victory.
Over that period, there were four more runner-up placings for Swedes, with three of them coming at The Open.
Parnevik was second again at Royal Troon in 1997 as Justin Leonard triumphed, Niclas Fasth was beaten only by David Duval at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2001, and Stenson was the nearest challenger to Mickelson 12 years later at Muirfield, in a role reversal of their subsequent duel at Troon.
Jonas Blixt also earned runner-up honours at the 2014 Masters, while Freddie Jacobson, Robert Karlsson, Peter Hanson and Carl Petterson all finished near the top of major leaderboards on at least one occasion as Sweden came close to glory time and time again.
Nobody threatened to break the country’s duck more frequently than Stenson, who managed seven top-five finishes in majors before prevailing at Troon.
When he was finally able to celebrate, he enjoyed a special moment with a Swedish broadcasting icon who had first commentated on The Open way back in 1966.
“Once we were done at the golf club, we went to the IMG House that we’d been to during the week and I brought the Swedish television team to come over,” said Stenson.
“Goran Zachrisson, who has been commentating on The Open for 50 straight years … he was kind of in disbelief almost.
“He probably thought, ‘is this ever gonna happen’, and yes, finally it did. So it was great to celebrate with him. He got to drink some champagne out of the Claret Jug.”
Within 24 hours of his victory, Stenson found himself in Switzerland as he honoured a previous commitment to play in a charity event held by Sergio Garcia.
Before long, though, the new Open Champion was able to revel in a hero’s welcome in his home nation and some special moments with his family.
“It was great times, to come home and to get to share it with everyone that I love and I know back home,” he added.
“It was a busy couple of days, because there was a lot of media, but then we had some time just with the family and a couple of dinners, and the Claret Jug was always with us there in the middle. It had its place on the kitchen table and it is the most beautiful trophy in golf, not just to me, but I guess to a lot of people.”
Stenson’s three children were all aged nine or under at this point, prompting him to acknowledge they will “realise how big that win is as they grow older”.
Nevertheless, the youngsters were still able to enjoy themselves with the Claret Jug, especially Stenson’s eldest daughter Lisa.
“I think they were pretty happy with the size (of the trophy),” he said. “It was a good size for them to be able to carry.
“I got some nice pictures of them sitting in the garden with the Claret Jug and when we went to the press conference in Sweden my daughter got to carry the Claret Jug from the car, so she was kind of in the middle of things.”
Other members of Stenson’s inner circle came to the forefront of his mind as he reflected on his triumph.
While he had enjoyed no shortage of success prior to winning The Open, most notably during a “dream season” in 2013 when he claimed an unprecedented Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup double as well as finishing second at Muirfield, Stenson had also experienced significant struggles earlier in his career.
During his most alarming slump in the early 2000s, when his form with the driver proved the biggest issue, Stenson was particularly grateful for the support of those close to him.
“I think if I let that get complete hold of me, we wouldn’t be sitting here today and talking about winning The Open and a long and successful career,” said Stenson, who also rebounded from outside the world’s top 200 in 2012 with his spectacular success the following year.
“There’s been players vanishing from being in the state I was, no question about it, but I wouldn’t consider myself a quitter or someone who gives up easily. I was determined to get back, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
“It was bad. My confidence was completely gone. One thing, I guess, that saved me a little bit was that I think I was pretty good at separating my golf game and my life outside of golf. I could still have a good time with my buddies and with my girlfriend at the time, later my wife.
“The support from the people around me (really helped) … it was tough times. My career has had some super highs, but it’s had some real lows as well and tough times. But I managed to grind my way out of it and thanks to a lot of people that helped me at the time and are still with me. I’ve always kept the same team around me, more or less, and I think that’s really paid off over time.”
By now, it should be clear that Stenson’s win has had a huge impact on many people.
In addition to ending his country’s long wait for a male major champion, success in The Open has enabled Stenson to share special moments with family, friends and members of his team.
What is more, the nature of his win ensures he is never likely to go too long without being reminded of his glorious achievement.
Stenson’s thrilling battle with Mickelson immediately prompted widespread comparisons with the famous Duel in the Sun between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in 1977. That Championship at Turnberry continues to be fondly recalled to this day, and it appears certain the magnificence of Stenson and Mickelson’s performances will spark similar conversations decades from now.
“The older you get, the more you care about history and what’s been there before you,” reasoned Stenson.
“The nice thing after winning it was, of course, the style it was won in and the match I had with Phil, and the records that were broken that day.
“That’s not something you think about when you’re playing, because it’s all about winning the trophy, winning the Claret Jug, and you’re not thinking about the way you win. But of course it’s an added bonus afterwards.
“There have always been tournaments throughout time that have been won in better ways than others. And to be there as one of the nice ones, it’s a great feeling.”
It remains to be seen how long Stenson will hold the record for The Open’s lowest total score, but a 20-under aggregate will certainly take some beating.
“You never know in this game (how long the record will last). It could be for five years, it could be for 10, it could be there for 30 years,” he added.
“It’s a nice one to have. That name in history is even stronger stamped.
“Of course, you feel proud of being part of that history. I’ve achieved some great things on the golf course, but there’s a few trophies and a few wins, and The Open in particular, where you feel like you’re actually immortal in golfing history.
“As a European, if I’m not to win any more major championships, that was the one for me.”
Whatever happens in the rest of his career, Stenson’s success at Troon has undoubtedly left a lasting legacy.
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