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The Admirable Swede

Henrik Stenson has come through some hard times to reclaim the financial heights

Posted Nov 19, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece


European golf acquired a very special role model when Henrik Stenson swept to victory last weekend.  While capturing the money list, the 37-year-old Swede created history by becoming the first player to win the tour championship on both sides of the Atlantic.  And it was the manner of his climb to such dizzy heights which really impressed.

The nature of Stenson the man was captured beautifully by a little vignette at the end of his third round on the Earth Course in Dubai. As he left the 18th green and headed for the recorder’s area, a television camera followed him all the way. “Hopefully I kept you awake at home,” he mischievously addressed the TV audience, who had seen him birdie four of the last five holes.

Stenson is different, not least for the admirable way in which he managed to cope with the devastation of losing an estimated $8 million of his life’s savings in the Allen Stanford financial crash in February 2009. “I wouldn’t say it had much effect on my golf,” he later asserted.  And he went on to prove that this wasn’t empty bravado, through the way he steered his career to unprecedented heights.

I had experienced an example of the Swede’s exceptional character, at the 2012 US Masters. It was when his regular caddie at the time, Fanny Sunesson, was present at Augusta National, even though she couldn’t perform her regular duties due to a back injury sustained when tripping over a marshal’s rope in Switzerland the previous autumn.

Stenson arranged to have Irishman, Jude O’Reilly, as a stand-in bagman for the first Major of the year.  But he also made a point of inviting Fanny along, even though her role would be no more than that of a humble gofer during Masters week.  “Henrik wanted her because of her experience as twice a Masters winner with Nick Faldo,” said O’Reilly at the time. “Not many people have her experience around this track.”  

The stand-in bagman, who had previously caddied in the Masters for Shigeki Maruyama in 2000 and 2001, had no problem with the arrangement.  “Though she insisted she was my gofer for the week, not my advisor, Fanny offered some invaluable advice to both myself and Henrik,” he added. “They talked a lot about the pins and the angles and where to be and where not to be. The usual stuff.”

In the event, their best-laid plans came seriously unstuck when Stenson, who was six under after 15 on the opening day, carded a wretched eight on 18 for a 71.  But he recovered admirably to remain in contention into the weekend before eventually slipping to a share of 40th place behind Bubba Watson.  All the while, it was arguable how helpful Fanny could have been to his cause.  The really impressive thing, however, was that her employer had the consideration to ensure that she was there, despite the additional cost.

To a lot of Stenson’s tournament colleagues, the cost would have mattered.  Especially if they had experienced his misfortune of three years previously.  I happened to be at Dove Mountain, Tucson, in February 2009 when, as the sixth seed, he lost in the opening round of the Accenture Matchplay to Davis Love at the 21st.

The Swede had just learned that he was among thousands of investors whose money was frozen in a Stanford Financial bank account in Antigua. Earlier that month, the banker had been accused of an $8 billion investment fraud for which he is currently serving time.  As it happened, Stenson signed a three-year endorsement contract with Stanford in June 2008 and also transferred a considerable amount of his personal wealth into a Stanford bank account.

With classic understatement, he said at the time: “It’s obviously not a happy situation for a whole lot of people.”  Either way, the severe dent to his coffers has since been rectified, with considerable bonuses on top, by a remarkable season which earlier included a bonanza of $11.4 from the PGA Tour Championship in Atlanta two months ago.

So we can’t but admire this classy, considerate Swede with the quirky sense of humour.

- Dermot Gilleece

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