Industry News

What might have been: Stenson, Arnie and Bay Hill

By Steve Harmon

ORLANDO, Fla. – During an Arnold Palmer Invitational week steeped in nostalgia for its namesake host, Henrik Stenson laments one story that he wasn’t quite able to complete.

Stenson and the late Palmer had more than a few things in common: both adopted Orlando as their hometown, endeared themselves to golf fans worldwide with their wit and approachability and, as Stenson noted, won the British Open at Royal Troon.

“I would have liked to try and meet up for lunch here and share some memories from the wins,” Stenson told assembled golf media Tuesday at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, site of the first API since “The King” died Sept. 25 at age 87. “But, unfortunately, that couldn't happen.”

Stenson shot a final-round 63 at Troon last summer to edge Phil Mickelson in one of golf’s greatest duels, 54 years after Palmer won the Claret Jug, his second consecutive, at the Scottish links. Stenson stands No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking after having won his second Race to Dubai season title on the European Tour last fall. 

If you’re looking for a favorite to slip into the winner’s blue jacket here, Stenson should be among them. The Swede owns four consecutive top 10s at Bay Hill, but he laments missing chances to have been crowned by The King. After leading or sharing the lead on the back nine Sunday in each of the past two years, Stenson faded, finishing runner-up in 2015 and T-3 in ’16. 

The setback two years ago, when Matt Every won his second consecutive API, still stings.

“There's no question it was one of the tougher losses that I had in 2015 when I didn't manage to win here, despite having a great opportunity,” said Stenson, 40, who has won five times on the PGA Tour and nine times in Europe. “That's the way it goes sometimes, but I hope I can make up for it and I win this tournament in the near future.”

Stenson returns to Bay Hill with some momentum. After a 2016 defined by a Claret Jug and an Olympic silver medal, he owns three top-10s in four starts worldwide, including a tie for seventh last week in the Valspar Championship. Stenson finds himself adjusting to the increased time demands of a major champion.

“It's been a little bit busier, which is nice, but also it takes away a little bit of focus from practice and what we're out there to do,” he said. “But I've taken my fair share of selfies and signed things in the last six months, I would say.”

With his eye on the Masters in three weeks, Stenson intends to skip next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and visit Augusta National on his way to Houston for the Tour event that precedes the season’s first major.

“That's what I've done the previous years,” he said. “It's always good to get a refresher and have a walk around the course and hit some shots and hit some putts. So, even though the golf course itself up there doesn't change too much, it's always good to have a little early look.”

And perhaps even make another memory that would have been worth sharing with Palmer.

Steve Harmon is the editor of Morning Read. Email: steve@morningread.com