Henrik Stenson fished his golf ball out of the bottom of the cup. He put his sunglasses at the back of his cap. He stepped to the mic. And he delivered a joke to his interviewer. You can take the man out of the Ryder Cup captaincy, but you can’t take his deadpan humor.
“I guess we can agree I played like a captain,” he said.
Stenson’s interviewer jumped in to point out the obvious.
“But you’re not a captain this week,” he said.
“No, Lee is,” Stenson said.
If that sounds like an awkward way to begin a victory celebration, well, this is all a bit awkward. Last week Stenson was the European Ryder Cup captain. This week he isn’t. After the Swede joined LIV, forfeiting his helm atop Team Europe, he signed on to play for the Majesticks instead. Lee Westwood is the captain of that squad.
But it was Stenson holding the trophy at the end of the week, claiming the $4 million first prize and reinforcing the fact that if his goals in professional golf were purely financial, he’d made the obvious decision.
“It’s been a good first week, obviously,” Stenson said, asked if the win validated his decision to join LIV. “It’s been a busy 10 days and I’m extremely proud that I managed to focus as well as I did. It was a little wobbly coming home here, we haven’t finished a deal in a couple years with any wins.”
While Stenson did come close to a victory at last month’s Scandinavian Mixed — a tournament of men and women he co-hosts with fellow Swede Annika Sorenstam — his last win came at the 2019 Hero World Challenge. His last full-field victory came at the 2017 Wyndham Championship. This was perhaps his strangest victory of all, as it came at the center of a week in which he’d thrust himself in the middle of golf’s ongoing culture war.
“I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family over these last 10 days, and when the tough gets going and so on,” he said. “That’s when friendships get put to the test.”
Of the 48 players teeing it up at Trump Bedminster for this week’s LIV event, Stenson was the winner that would best exemplify the strange, charged place in which professional golf has now found itself. The week began trying to sort out who would replace his Ryder Cup position. The week concluded with Donald Trump, Jr. tweeting that Stenson’s win was “the greatest F/U in the history of Golf”.
Stenson didn’t go that far. But he did acknowledge in his post-round press conference that he’d used the previous week’s events to double down his efforts at Bedminster.
“I think there might have been a little bit of extra motivation in there this week,” he said. “When we as players have that, I think we can bring out the good stuff. Yeah, I certainly did that this week.
“I guess that’s been a bit of a theme over the course of my career, I think, when I really want something I manage to dig a little bit deeper, and a lot of times we manage to make it happen.”