2006: Stenson no superstar – yet
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
That old expression about one swallow does not make a summer seems apropos right now as the world of golf gushes over the talents of Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
The great and good of world golf would do well to keep Aristotle’s
words in mind before they hang an albatross over the Swede’s broad shoulders. Listen to all and sundry, and Stenson already has been dubbed
the next superstar.
Colin Montgomerie wants to partner with him in the Ryder Cup. European captain Ian Woosnam is ready to put him up against Tiger Woods, and even the World No. 1 enthuses
about the 29-year-old. “He’s got
an inordinate amount of talent,”
Woods said after playing with him
in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic. “You can see that. He hits the ball a long way and he’s come a long way in the last couple of years.”
Hold on a wee minute. We’ve been down this road before. Remember Fredrik Jacobson,
Jesper Parnevik, Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke, Patrik Sjoland,
Jarmo Sandelin, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Joakim Haeggman
and Anders Forsbrand?
All were earmarked for greatness after one or two excellent seasons and failed to deliver. Forsbrand
is perhaps the best comparison
to Stenson. He had the same sort
of length, the same rugged build. Indeed, many marked him out
as the first Swede to make the European Ryder Cup team. Forsbrand won six titles in Europe, played in the majors, then went down the Nick Faldo route, overhauling his swing with David Leadbetter and even employing ex-Faldo caddie Andy Prodger.
As we all know, Forsbrand did not make the Ryder Cup team. Instead, Haeggman fills the trivia books as the first Swede to take part in the biennial matches. Forsbrand’s star shone brightly for a few seasons, then faded rapidly, sinking back into the darkest regions of the European Tour firmament.
Others have followed. They’ve burst on the scene with a touch of élan, got everyone excited, then faded fast. It seems strange to think that two years ago Jacobson was gaining much sympathy for missing out as one of Bernhard Langer’s Ryder Cup captain’s picks. Now, he’s not even in the running for a place.
The difference, of course, is that Stenson will take part in the match. Only a miracle can keep him from making the trip to Dublin.
Haeggman has no doubt his younger compatriot will shine.
“He’s the perfect four-balls or foursomes partner,” Haeggman said. “What more could you ask for than someone who hits it long and straight?”
Haeggman knew all about Stenson long before he reached the pro ranks. His young countryman won many amateur titles in Sweden, represented his country in the 1998 World Amateur Team Championships, then turned pro. He played the Challenge Tour in 1999 and 2000, winning the Order of Merit in his second year to graduate to the main tour with honors.
Many people felt Stenson’s Ryder Cup debut would come much earlier after he won the 2001 Benson & Hedges International Open at The Belfry. That’s when Stenson’s superior play came to the fore. However, the Swede had swing problems following that victory and lost confidence. He only got back on track with the help of coach Pete Cowen.
The teacher was not impressed with his new pupil when they started out.
“Yes, he had won a golf tournament, a big golf tournament, but if you look where he hit it around The Belfry and look at some of his shots, you realize
he got away with murder,” Cowen said.
“He played Fota Island and ran out of golf balls playing the (2002) Irish Open. He was just hitting it off the planet. He didn’t have a clue what he was doing. He just didn’t understand his golf swing and how it worked.”
Thanks to Cowen’s tutelage, Stenson won the Heritage at Woburn in 2004, then added a third Tour victory Jan. 29 at the Qatar Masters. That victory, along with a sterling 2005 that saw him record nine top-10 finishes, virtually has cemented his spot on the European Ryder Cup side.
He’ll be a huge asset to the European team, but I’m guessing Tom Lehman’s men won’t be quivering in their boots if they come up against him.
Therein lies the danger: that we get too carried away, hang a label on Stenson he can’t live up to, then begin the search for another superstar all over again. Stenson does have the power Fasth, Fulke and Jacobson don’t, but that’s no reason to expect him to win multiple majors.
Robert Karlsson is another Swede who came close to Ryder Cup glory, but was denied a place in 1999 by Mark James in favor of Andrew Coltart – a decision that will baffle me
for as long as men and women chase little white orbs.
Karlsson has been around the European Tour long enough to know all about Aristotle’s maxim.
“When someone is playing good for a while, people think they’re going to
be the new superstar,” Karlsson said. “We’ve seen it before with other players.
“He’s got to watch he doesn’t get too caught up in all the hype. The danger is that he will stop doing what has brought him success and start doing other things that takes him down the wrong path.
“We’ve seen other players who’ve got into the top 20 in the world and then thought they needed to work on different things to get into the top 10. That’s a mistake. Henrik needs to work around what brought him success. He needs to keep improving on his strengths and not try to get too caught up
in what he can’t do.”
Wise words indeed.
Most of the time when we label someone “the next superstar,” we can pretty much kiss him goodbye. Stenson’s good, but he needs to prove himself at the highest level a bit longer before we start inducting him into the Hall of Fame. m