Henrik, speaking to Martin Kaymer, he said it’s been the greatest week of his career. How would you rate being an Olympian as from tomorrow morning?
HENRIK STENSON: It’s definitely a highlight. In general, I’m a big sporting fan, so to be in this environment, it’s been both motivating and fun. I’ve watched some other sports, participated in the Opening Ceremony, that’s certainly something to remember. Yeah, it’s always an honour to represent your country and that’s a big reason why I’m here playing.
- Does this feel like any other tournament, and when does that change?
HENRIK STENSON: No, it doesn’t quite feel like any other tournament. But at the same time, from when the kind of tournament week started, I’m trying to make it feel as much as a normal week, as one of the bigger normal weeks.
Yeah, we’re not far off but it is slightly different. It’s not the majors or PGA or European Tour kind of environment, even though we’re not far away. Just has a slightly different feel, and it should have, because it isn’t; it’s the Olympics, and we’re going to create our own atmosphere at this venue.
I think we’re going to have a good test out on the course. It’s definitely a course that’s going to separate the ones who are playing well compared to the ones who don’t for the week and I think we’re going to have the strong players up there by the end of the week. No, it’s all good.
- What other sports have you seen and what has impressed you about the other athletes in the other disciplines?
HENRIK STENSON: I’ve watched a lot of handball. That’s been the main, both the women and the men’s handball. I’ve watched quite a lot of that.
I was in the gym on Sunday evening, and if you want to get motivated and get going, that’s definitely a place to be. There’s a lot of athletes from different sports in there, and I didn’t try and go for some deadlifts on 80, 90 kilos when there was a guy holding up 180 kilos straight up on both arms. I was sticking to my routines and exercises that I know I can do and that looks good (smiling).
But gymnasts, in terms of actually answering your questions, gymnasts are probably some of the most impressive athletes in strength compared to their weight and everything else, and also the weightlifters and anyone who is in that field. Yeah, there’s a lot of strong people in that gym, I know that.
- With everything you’ve accomplished in your career, if you were would win a Gold Medal, what would that mean?
HENRIK STENSON: I said before, I would have it just underneath a major championship. I mean, you’ve got to rank things in a certain order. You’re always going to ask me to do that.
I mean, I would have the four majors and I would have the Olympic Gold just behind that or very near proximity, and WGCs, TPC and the big Tour events. It’s up there amongst the best things you can win, for sure.
- What are your overall impressions of the golf course?
HENRIK STENSON: Yeah, I think they have done a pretty good job, given how short a time span it was to get this going, and to finish up the course and get it grassed and ready to go.
I think it’s a good playing surface. The one thing I would say, that kind of struck me, though, given the types of grass that we are playing on, both how sticky and soft it is. When you have quite undulating green complexes and something that looks like a links and kind of craves you to hit a pitch‑and‑run, and you can’t really play that type of golf shot on the greens and in a lot of areas.
It doesn’t necessarily play the way it looks, and you have to make some adjustments for that. It’s either going to be, you’re going to run it along the ground or you’re going to flop it. You can’t really use those banks to bump it into like you would on a links course in Great Britain because the surface is just not hard enough and the grass is more sticky, as well.
- After Troon, is it hard to get motivated again?
HENRIK STENSON: Not given what we play for this week. I think I didn’t have much time to sit down and reflect on what happened at Troon. It was just a couple of busy days, a little bit of rest with the family and then straight back into the next major, and I came in there with probably a half‑empty battery and pretty much emptied what was there during the PGA.
So for me it’s been a question of trying to recuperate some energy and get back to finding some energy back. I’ve taken it fairly easy the last ten days in that sense, in terms of golf practise. I’ve had a couple days here now to practise and play, and I think once we get going here, the motivation is going to be very high to perform well. It’s been an event I’ve been looking forward to participate in and play well in for a long time.
- There’s been a lot of talk the last year or so whether golf belonged in the Olympics, and having so many players withdraw for a number of reasons, when the IOC votes next year to keep beyond 2020, if you had a chance to speak to the IOC to pitch golf, what would you say?
HENRIK STENSON: Yeah, I think we should stay. They should keep it.
- If they ask why ‑‑ can you elaborate?
HENRIK STENSON: Make sure you keep it. (Laughter).
We’ll see if I get a chance to do that then, but let’s take this event first. I think it’s going to be a good one. We’ve got a strong field assembled despite a few guys not being here. There’s still, like I said yesterday in a lot of other interviews, I think I can give you a list of ten to 15 guys who I think are going to find the medals, and that’s going to be among the strong players that are here most likely.
We’re a different sport. It not like some of the other sports where if you know a jump a certain distance or swim at a certain time, you can pretty much figure out who is going to win and finish second and third. Ours is a bit more down to the form for the week and on any given day.
It’s a little trickier to find the gold and silver and bronze I think in golf than some other sports. But you’re still going to have a rough idea who is going to be there most likely.
- Do you buy into the idea that golf in the Olympics will help grow the game, and specifically, how do you think that might impact golf’s growth in Sweden?
HENRIK STENSON: Well, I think it already has. I mean, being part of the Olympic Games, I think golf has real federations, and golf in certain countries have already been getting funds and have been starting to look at it differently.
I think it already has grown the game. But of course, us being here playing, it’s going to be viewed on the world stage, and that’s going to be a different thing then for the players who are now 14 and sitting back home watching this.
I never saw my golfing heros play in the Olympics, but you’re going to have youngsters in different parts of the world watching us play on telly, they are most likely going to dream about being here one day in the future.
I think it certainly will grow the game, and it already has.
- It seems like everybody’s involved in the responsibility to make sure golf stays in the Olympics, not just the players. What are you willing to do, and take a case like the PGA TOUR, do you think the governing bodies or tours have to do other things than allow it to happen to showcase this event?
HENRIK STENSON: Yeah, I mean, it was always going to be hard to find two weeks in the middle of the summer. But I mean, that’s one thing I believe they might have to look at in the future, if you should have tournaments up against it.
We still have some smaller events running against major championships and so on, but it might be something to look at, whether someone has to give in some way to make sure that you have the right lead‑ up to the Olympics in terms of preparation, and not kind of coming rushed off back‑to‑back majors almost and then straight into the Olympics. But I think that’s something that we can look at for the future.
- When did it really sink in that you had won The Open?
HENRIK STENSON: Well, I knew I had won it when Phil left his birdie putt from long range short on 18, I knew I had won it.
But in terms of sinking in, virtually a day doesn’t go by without me, like, “Yeah, I’ve got the Claret Jug at home,” and it brings a smile to my face. I’m enjoying it. It’s a dream come true, being The Open Champion.
I’ve worked really hard for it, I’d say, and it was very sweet to make that happen, even on the second half of my career to make that happen and I’m motivated to get more, as well. I figured you would have 12, 15 chances to win a major championship in these last four or five years, and I got one this year, so I’ve still got a another four or five years to go. I’m going to try and make sure it gets a partner.
- In terms of growing the game, what would grow the game more in Sweden, Sergio winning a Gold Medal or you winning the Claret Jug?
HENRIK STENSON: Well, unless Sergio is Swedish all of a sudden, I think me winning the Claret Jug is a good answer on that question.
- How do you balance the difference in the Olympics between what ‑‑
HENRIK STENSON: I don’t know if you have to. We’ve got four majors. We’ve got an Olympic competition, and I think they are all going to be good for growing the game at home if the Swedish players have success.
Even if it’s not a Swede, even if it would be Sergio, I’m going to try my hardest to make sure that doesn’t happen; but if he were to be the Gold Medalist, I’m sure there’s going to be some youngsters back home in Sweden seeing Sergio playing well and feel like we want to go out and try to become better golfers and hopefully one day make sure there’s not a Spaniard winning the Olympic Gold.
- Is there anything that’s surprised you over the last week?
HENRIK STENSON: There’s a lot of buses. It’s such a big event. I mean, I would imagine it is the biggest sporting event in the world ‑‑ no? Yes? No one knows?
HENRIK STENSON: Thanks for clarifying that.
It takes a while to move around, of course. That is the downside of being at such a big venue that it’s not just an easy in and out and getting things done. It always takes a little bit of time to move around.
As you know, you spend a few minutes on those buses throughout the week that we normally don’t do, but that’s just part of being here. I think the overall experience has been very good.
- Your colleagues were very afraid of Zika flies. Have you seen any?
HENRIK STENSON: Well, I flattened a few on my arm the other night. I think I beat them before they got to me. No, I haven’t seen a whole lot of mosquitos at night times. I think there’s been the odd one but that’s not been an issue yet. I feel fine.
- Before coming, was it a topic between players?
HENRIK STENSON: No, not really. I just knew that I was going to be here and play and represent my country and try and do my best here this week. I haven’t really spent time or energy trying to figure out why certain players didn’t want to be here or go.
I’ve said that before; I think ten years down the line, you’re going to look at who won the Gold Medal, not wasn’t here, so let’s focus on that. If you want to, we can talk about the state of my game or anything else ‑‑ no, not really.
Yeah, I mean, we all make up our own minds and our own schedules. Some decided to go. Some decided not to. I’m sitting here; you’d better ask them why they didn’t show up.
And since we’re not interested about my game, I’ve got a gym session to go ‑‑ no? (Laughter).
- How is the state of your game?
HENRIK STENSON: It feels all right. I haven’t practised a whole lot for the previous week, but I was out there getting soaked now, and I actually hit a couple out in the middle and they felt pretty good.
Spent a fair bit of time on the putting green, which I felt was something I needed to do. So I feel pretty happy with the game plan and fairly happy with the state of my game. So thanks for asking (laughter).
- With only three places on offer, if you’re sitting third and a chance to win, and also a chance to fall off the podium, does that change how you play?
HENRIK STENSON: No, I think there would be a time when you would consider maybe certain tactical moves or a certain game plan, how you play coming down the stretch if you’re in a certain position.
But if I’m in third with a chance to win gold, I don’t see myself playing for a third position at this time. I didn’t do it at the PGA Championship a couple of weeks ago, even though I had to push hard towards the end, and if I make something happen, even though it probably wasn’t my day; a third or a fourth or whatever it turned into, a seventh.
But if you have an outside chance to get in a playoff to win a Gold Medal, I definitely would be willing to go for it.
On the other hand, if you feel like you’re five shots back with four holes to go, you’re more, it might be nice to leave with a medal and might be a different scenario.
But as long as I can win something better than what I can potentially lose, I think I’m always going to try and move ahead. That is the beauty of this event, if that you’re actually in third, you’re actually going to be leaving with something. If you’re third at a major, yeah, you get World Ranking points and a nice prize cheque. But I would definitely trade a third in a major for a third at the Olympics.
- Have you had any athletes recognise you in the village or ask you about The Open championship?
HENRIK STENSON: Yeah, I’ve been asked for a few photo opportunities from athletes from all over the shop. Yeah, it’s been nice. I’ve been getting a lot of recognition, a lot of congratulations over these last couple of weeks.
It just shows what an impact it has, and it’s been very nice to receive that. Not just from my colleagues but from colleagues from other sports, as well. No, that’s been great.
- How do you plan to play 16?
HENRIK STENSON: I mean, that’s a good, short par 4, drivable one. But it’s got some dangers do you know the left‑hand side. I’m sure if you try to get up or if you try to drive the green, and you go left, you’re most likely going to end up in those bushes or high grass down there.
For at least three out of four pins, I’m going to hit it to the left of that little hump there to about 260 yards or something and pitch it on the green. And then we’ll see on the back left pin if we want to have different tactics. But yeah, you’ve got to be careful on that one. But I can’t spill all the beans here, can I? I’ve got a competition tomorrow.
- Along those same lines, can you talk about the three closing holes? Can you imagine there will be a lot of drama?
HENRIK STENSON: Yeah, certainly the last three holes, yeah, you can chip in, you can drive the green, you can go in the green‑side bunker and bunker it in for a two. You can certainly see ‑‑ I would be surprised if we don’t see an eagle on 16 at some point.
17 is a short par 3. Got some tricky pin positions but it’s a short hole and you can be aggressive and hit it really close there, especially if there’s no wind or a little downwind, then it might just be a sand iron, or otherwise it’s most likely pitching wedge. It’s a whole week and you can hit a good shot and stick it close and make a birdie and if someone hits a bad shot at the wrong time, you can walk away with a bogey.
18 is similar, a reachable par 5 most of the time, and someone can make an eagle and someone can make a bogey. Yeah, a lot of things can change hands coming down those last three holes.
- If you’re coming down the stretch and you’re in contention, and David is in contention, as well, does that affect the mind‑set ‑‑ a team atmosphere?
HENRIK STENSON: Not really. Of course I would love for him to do well, but I don’t think so. It’s an individual competition and we’re going to try and achieve the same thing. You know only one can do it, but if that’s the case, hopefully it will be someone with yellow and blue on their golf bag and shirts.
- Your record in playing with the wind ‑‑ is there an advantage ‑‑
HENRIK STENSON: No, I just know I’ve got a game that normally works pretty well on strong golf courses, as well as in tough conditions. I think you can have a bit of both here; whether the wind is going to be a factor, and there’s about five or six holes out on this golf course that are pretty tough.
Given the wind, it might change some of the holes and make them a little nicer or a little tougher. But there’s certainly a couple of tough holes out there, and I don’t mind that. Yeah, I feel pretty happy with the test that we’re going to face, and having a bit of wind is making it even more interesting, yeah.