Henrik Stenson is always quick with the wit, making him one of the favorites with the media when he’s in the interview room (and you’ll see why hopefully after reading this post). Well, lucky for us, Stenson fired an impressive five-under 65 to kick off the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. The Swede holed a 15-footer for birdie on the par-5 18th to put an exclamation on his round and to take a share of the early lead with Dustin Johnson.
Stenson was obviously very pleased with his start, particularly birdieing four of his last five holes.
“I want to rank (my round),” he quipped with a smile. “It was good. No, it was a good day. I was striking it nicely, which led to a lot of birdie opportunities for me. I felt like I was really keeping my patience and a level head out there and very focused on the things that I wanted to be focused on. And then finished off with — it was a good day on the greens in all, but especially the last five holes.
“I hit some beautiful putts and managed to slip a few in there. It was a good way to finish the day. And good shape, one day out of four done, and we’re right there with where we want to be. It’s still a long journey until Sunday afternoon, of course. A good start always helps. I just got to do more of the same of what I did today and hopefully I can continue to post some good numbers.”
Funny enough, Stenson was among the players who were skeptical of the golf course in the weeks leading up to the championship. He took a scouting trip to Chambers Bay on his way to the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship at the end of April and walked the track. Looks like it suits him better than he initially thought perhaps.
“It’s different,” he said, laughing. “Of its kind, it’s one of the finest.
“It is a links course with some extreme features, there’s no two ways about that. We’ve got some big banks, we’ve got some massive runoffs and fairways that are really sloping in areas. Like the 8th hole, hit a nice 3-wood down the middle, just trying to hit a nice fairway finder, but it turned into a rough finder.
“So, yeah, there are some extreme features on this course, I think everybody can see that. And then it’s more down to how you’re going to play those, and make sure you don’t get tricked out by them.”
Meanwhile, Stenson’s caddie Gareth Lord is looping with just one good arm. As Stenson described, they were walking down the third, Lord’s “famous last words” were: “I hope I don’t fall this week, that would make it a good week.” The severe features of the course lend to potential disasters or injuries for players, caddies, media members and fans, as we all try to navigate the perilous terrain.
Well, on the 16th, Lord slipped and fell, with both feet going in the air and his left wrist getting trapped underneath the golf bag in the process. He went to see the physios on-site before they sent him to the emergency room to get X-rays and such, and though his left arm is in a cast, Lord still wanted to work.
“It might be broken and stuff in there or just torn ligaments,” said Stenson. “So, yeah, he’s not in a good place with the hand, but he managed to caddie and did a good job for me anyway. I had to caddie for him a little bit, as well.”
Asked if there was any point he thought he would need to find a replacement caddie, Stenson said, laughing, “Well, I mean that’s a thought that I’ve had many times when I played with Gareth.
“No, I mean, of course I was worried. He took the fall and I asked him if he was okay and he said he was okay. Because I know especially carrying a bag and if you take a fall, the first reaction you put your hands out to try to save yourself. And like he did, he got his wrist in a funky position. He said he was okay, but he was a little quiet. Then five minutes later, it just started getting black and blue up the lower part of his arm. So we knew something wasn’t right.”
With the drastic elevation changes, Chambers Bay isn’t an easy walk and fatigue could potentially become a factor as the week progresses, but personally, Stenson isn’t concerned.
“Despite being a little bit older, I’m in pretty good shape,” he said. “I was happy when I started playing my practice rounds, I’m in good shape and healthy again. It’s a challenging walk, as well.
“There’s a lot of steep climbing and I’m sure there will be some tired glutes by the end of the week.”
Zing! A bit of a dig at Tiger Woods? Well played.