ATLANTA — Sometimes a good hissy fit is all you need.
On Monday, the normally stoic Henrik Stenson, a golfer so devoid of on-course demonstrability that his nickname is The Terminator, went full-scale ballistic in the locker room of Cog Hill in suburban Chicago, leaving behind a splintered mess where the wooden door to his locker once stood.
Article continues below ...
Three days later he made five birdies on the front nine at East Lake Golf Club and two more on the back to go with one bogey. His 64 was good enough to lead the opening round of the Tour Championship by one shot over Adam Scott.
“I used my foot (to break the locker),” Stenson said sheepishly after his round. “There were some towels on a box and I kicked them a few times. Then I realized that I had kicked the door (of the locker) a little bit, so I decided to finish it.”
The temper tantrum was incredibly out of character. Stenson is as funny, charming and accommodating off the course as he is straight-faced and robotic on it. His deadpan Swedish humor is legendary on tour, and he goes out of his way to sign more autographs than most. A lot of people were taken aback when they heard about the fit.
The 64 at East Lake, however, was classic Stenson.
He hit a hard 7-iron to five feet on the par-three second for his first birdie of the day. Then hit it to four inches on the fourth hole and four feet at the fifth and the sixth. When he birdied the seventh many people wondered if, perhaps for the second week in a row, a 59 might be in the offing.
The former South Carolina Gamecock who won the Deutsche Bank Championship to move into the second spot on the FexEx Cup points list, made seven pars in a row beginning at the eighth, followed by a routine up-and-down birdie at 15 and a bogey at 16 out of the right rough. He parred 17 and finished the round with the shot of the day, a 220-yard 5-iron to the three feet on the difficult par-three 18th.
“I ended up with a lot of good yardages,” he said. “Then it’s always that bonus factor. When it’s your day, you’re hitting good shots and getting them as close as I got them, I’m pretty sure I could have hit the same number of good shots on another day and been 10-, 20-feet away.”
So, as confident and comfortable as he was on Thursday, what set him off on Monday?
“I’ve always been a bit of a hothead,” he said, much to the surprise of people who have known him for years. “It kind of builds up inside me, and eventually it goes over the limit. For me, it comes down to being tired. I played so much golf, and I played so well that I haven’t been able to get any rest.
“I was looking forward to that Monday (being) back home and lying on the couch with the kids in school and me doing nothing. I ended up playing golf again on Monday (as the BMW Championship was rain-delayed, forcing a Monday finish). So, I pushed myself over the edge.”
If anyone could handle the pressure of a Monday finish, it should have been Stenson, a man who rose to fifth in the World Golf Rankings after his 2009 Players Championship victory only to tumble all the way down to 230th in the world two years later.
Some of the fall had to do with money. He lost a good chunk of his fortune in the $7 billion Stanford Financial Ponzi scheme of 2009. He put tremendous pressure on himself and was soon missing more fairways by wider margins than at any time in his career.
A full-blown victim of the driver yips, Stenson fell farther faster than any player in recent history. He clawed his way back through hard work, many tears and the support of his wife, Emma, who he met at South Carolina. After three years of struggles, he won the 2012 South African Open and finished runner-up in Houston the same year.
“You’ve got to be able to take the hits and keep going,” he said recently.
If he hasn’t locked it up already, a win at the Tour Championship would insure that Stenson wins Comeback Player of the Year.
The $10 million payout would also end his money concerns forever.
As for the locker, he has paid for the damage and personally apologized to the members and staff at Cog Hill. “I gave them my contact information so that we can be in touch,” he said.
Stenson’s playing partner on Thursday was Tiger Woods, who came into the week leading the FedEx points’ race, but shot three over par on Thursday, leaving him in 29th place out of 30 players. It was the first time since the 2010 U.S. Open that Woods has played a round without a single birdie.
When asked if he had any advice for Woods on handling frustration after the round, Stenson gave a wry smile and said, “I don’t think I’m the right person.”