ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Henrik Stenson seemed more perplexed by questions about his rumored intention to pull out of the race for Ryder Cup captaincy than the inexplicable triple-bogey 8 he racked up on the par-5 second hole of Yas Links Golf Club earlier on Saturday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“People seem to be hearing a lot of things about me these days. Where did you hear that?” he asked with a quizzical expression after his third round.
Truth is, there have been rumors all week. The genesis of it can be traced back to a story published in the UK newspaper, The Telegraph, on the eve of the Rolex Series event, which said the Swede had been given an ultimatum by the DP World Tour to choose between Ryder Cup captaincy and Golf Saudi’s purported Super Golf League.
The 45-year-old Stenson, Open champion in 2016, is one of several superstars headed to the Feb. 3-6 Saudi International. Sanctioned for three years by the DP World Tour, the $5 million event will now be played on the Asian Tour after Wentworth made a complete U-turn in their views on the event. DP World Tour commissioner Keith Pelley once termed it as the most “transformational” and “significant tournament” on his circuit.
In Abu Dhabi, it was overheard at the range that the Iceman has had enough of the thinly-veiled threats from the tour and asked the Ryder Cup committee not to consider him for captaincy. Pádraig Harrington, the last man to lead Team Europe, was also asked the question by the media, and he thought the only reason Stenson would opt out was if he wants to play his way into the team next year, as Lee Westwood has opted to.
“First things first, as far as I know, the decision has been postponed," Stenson said. “The committee will be considering names at the next meeting and they will then make an offer to the chosen player. The decision will be finalized sometime late next month.
“So, the short answer would be no, nothing like this has happened. I am still interested in the captaincy if I am asked, and I still think it would be a great honor. I’d definitely consider the offer, and if there are ‘terms and conditions’ attached, it will be discussed only once they decide to offer the job to me.”
Stenson, along with England’s Luke Donald, is considered a front-runner for European captaincy at the 2023 match in Rome. Both players were vice-captains to Harrington at Whistling Straits last year, where Europe was trounced 19-9 by Team USA.
“There are a lot of things happening in the world of golf as we all know, and there are a lot of politics involved. I can understand some of the angles, but I don’t get much of the politics,” Stenson added.
“Like the story in The Telegraph. I don’t know where that came from. It’s like I can write anything about anybody and say, ‘an anonymous source told me so.’ Who is this ‘anonymous’ member of my team? As far as I know, I have not had a single meeting with my team discussing the political outcomes of accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy.”
“There are a lot of things happening in the world of golf as we all know, and there are a lot of politics involved. I can understand some of the angles, but I don’t get much of the politics.”
Stenson’s situation is a bit more complicated than many other players with links to Golf Saudi. The Swede lived in Dubai for nearly 10 years before shifting residence to Florida and his gregarious nature has led to lasting friendships in the region.
His design company is competing with firms owned by Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Gary Player and Ernie Els in Saudi Arabia, where there are plans to build approximately 15 golf courses in the near future.
“As far as I am concerned, there’s nothing concrete that has materialized over these couple of years,” Stenson said. “We’ve heard a lot of ideas and scenarios, but nothing’s changed. I mean, as we stand here now in January, there is still a PGA Tour, a European Tour and an Asian Tour, which has got some investment from LIV Golf. And if things change going forward, we will say yes, or we will say thank you.”
Harrington is part of the five-member selection committee that will pick the next European captain. When asked to comment if Stenson, or players like Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, have been given an ultimatum regarding his involvement with Golf Saudi, the Dubliner said: “That’s way above my pay grade. But I assume we would know who is on the table before we enter the room.
“I am telling you honestly, I don’t know,” Harrington added. “Certainly, as players we’ve discussed who’s going to be the next captain. It was assumed it would be Lee, and I could see where Lee is coming from.
“We will have to see, won’t we? I don’t think that’s a decision, even though I have a vote, that we have to make. I assume I will be presented with who’s on the table. That situation is so fluid, we just don’t know how that would affect it.
“I will add that it’s very hard to have an opinion on the Saudi League unless you actually have a head turning off. Everybody has an opinion, but the real opinion is when there’s actually that big head-turning figure.”