Henrik Stenson on his plans for 2018 and how Europe have nothing to fear in the Ryder Cup

Chris Bailey 26/12/2017
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The season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai was not quite the same without Henrik Stenson but there is good news for UAE golf fans – he’s back in action next month.

The ‘Iceman’ has shaken off a rib injury to confirm his appearance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA between January 18-21 ahead of a big 2018 in which Europe will aim to wrest back the Ryder Cup.

Stenson sat down with Sport360° about his plans for the year and how a talent-rich American team will be nothing for the Europeans to fear at Le Golf National.

How has your recovery been?

It is going fine, thank you. I have had a rest and proper break and I’m now looking forward to the New Year and getting myself ready for Eurasia Cup and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

How have you spent your time away from the game?

I have been spending time with my family. It has been a real treat as there was so much fun to be had in the build-up to Christmas hanging out with the kids.

How important is it to get off to a flying start in January in what is a Ryder Cup year?

My first event will be the EurAsia Cup with captain Thomas Bjorn at the helm so that is definitely going to mean that the Ryder Cup is at the front of my mind at the start of the year. I definitely want to get off to a good start in 2018 and would love to secure my place in the team as early as possible in the season so there isn’t too much stress as September approaches.

You’ve won in Dubai three times but not at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship yet. Are you a fan of the course?

I really like the course and enjoy the tournament very much. I have played in every single Abu Dhabi tournament since it begun in 2006 so I think you can guess how much I like it and how much I would love to win that Falcon Trophy. I have had two second place finishes and was tied third in 2016. Last year, I opened up with a 64 so it definitely feels like the course suits me well.

Did you watch the DP World Tour Championship? What did you make of the tournament?

I was really sorry to miss out on playing this year. Although I didn’t get to watch too much golf as I was busy with my family, it looked like a fantastic week with plenty of excitement as Tommy (Fleetwood) and Justin (Rose)went head to head for the Race to Dubai honours while Jon (Rahm) claimed the title to underline his Rookie of the Year Award.

How many rookies can you remember who have had as good a year as Jon Rahm?

That is a tough one to answer as there have been some real stand out rookies over my years on Tour. Jon has had an amazing year and obviously did great in his rookie season on the PGA Tour last year. It is definitely a great boost for the European Ryder Cup team to have such a talented young star storm up the rankings as he has done.

The likes of Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton could all be Ryder Cup rookies next year. How strong is this potential European rookie class?

They are a strong group for sure with plenty of wins and a lot of experience already under their belts. With their rankings now up there, they should also get a lot of really valuable opportunities between now and the Ryder Cup in Paris to play against the American guys and gain even more experience.

With Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth winning three of the majors last year – is this potentially the strongest American team we’ve seen for some time?

No doubt the US team have some great players in their line up for 2018.

But, on paper, there have been plenty of times when they’ve looked to be dominant ahead of the match in previous years and then it has all worked out a little bit differently once the match gets going.

You’ve also got the EurAsia cup, but how useful is it as a warm-up to the real thing in September?

It is a great event in its own right and we will be very focused on trying to get the win for Europe, But, also, it will also allow Thomas an opportunity to play around with pairings and see how everyone’s chemistry is in the group.

Also, hanging out in a team environment together is always a pleasure and a really nice start to the year.

How good is it to see Tiger Woods back on the course and what would be a successful comeback season for him?

He had a great week at the Hero World Challenge.

I think a successful season for Tiger would be one where he plays injury free.

We all know what he can achieve when he is healthy so let’s hope he can stay healthy and we can enjoy watching Tiger regularly.

For the most part you’ve avoided injury heading into your 40s, what’s the secret to looking after yourself?

I have had my share of injuries, a couple of knee surgeries and some wear and tear but over all I have been quite lucky.

Obviously, I go to the gym and train and practice hard so I am in peak condition when I compete but I don’t think there is any particular secret.

I think it is important to listen to your body and if it does not feel right, you shouldn’t play and make your injury worse.

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Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship volunteers programme opens for registration

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The award-winning Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA has opened registration for its popular volunteers programme ahead of the tournament from January 18-21, 2018.

The pristine Abu Dhabi Golf Club will once again play host to the ‘best of the best’ next year, where volunteers will not only have a chance to get inside the ropes with the likes of reigning champion Tommy Fleetwood, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and super Swede Henrik Stenson, but there’s also a host of other exciting incentives.

Accepted volunteers will be briefed before the event and will receive their championship uniform to wear throughout the week while they work.

Marshals, mobile scoreboard operators and walking scorers are just a few of the roles volunteers can take on, providing a unique insight into this world-class event in the UAE capital.

2015 winner Gary Stal with young volunteers

2015 winner Gary Stal with young volunteers

Apart from the delicious all-day catering, drinks and snacks are available at the Volunteers HQ. After each shift the volunteers will receive a voucher to spend at the food trucks in the Championship Village.

A Certificate of Service will be given to each volunteer once the championship is over and they can attend the post-event party (over-18’s only) at the volunteer tent, as well as a have their photo taken with the 2018 winner.

Peter German, the championship’s tournament director said: “With each year we offer the volunteers programme and the great opportunities available, its popularity grows. The volunteers play a key role in helping us deliver a successful tournament year on year, so we’re thankful to all those – both living in the UAE and from abroad – who have participated in the past. And to those for this year’s championship I look forward to welcoming you all in January.”

Quiet please! Volunteers at work during the 2017 championship

Quiet please! Volunteers at work during the 2017 championship

One such dedicated volunteer was Bernard Dowling, a 79-year-old who has volunteered at every championship since its inception and has flown from the UK to do so.

His role each year was to collect the bibs off players and caddies after they finish on the 18th, but this year Dowling has also decided to hang up his own bib, making the 2017 edition his final championship.

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Van Dam shoots up leaderboard to take top spot at Dubai Ladies Classic

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A change of putter worked wonders for long-hitting Anne Van Dam who blistered the front nine to move atop the leaderboard going into the penultimate round of the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday.

Starting the second round two shots off the pace, the 22-year-old Dutch star fired a flawless seven-under 65 to reach 10-under for the tournament, a good two shots ahead of Scotland’s Kelsey MacDonald.

England’s Georgia Hall, placed 14th overnight, carded a sparkling 67 to join Australia’s Celina Yuan and Thidapa Suwannapura in a three-way tie for third on seven-under as overnight leader Supamas Sangchan slipped to tied sixth after returning a 71.

Teeing off from the 10th, Van Dam set the tone of the day with a birdie on the 11th before making the turn at two-under. Five in seven holes sparked her round to life, putting her firmly in the frame for her second title on the Ladies European Tour.

On Monday, a massive 350-yard drive on the 18th set her up for an 8-iron approach shot into the green and a comfortable two-putt birdie, however it was her putting which helped her move to the top of the leaderboard on day two.

“I haven’t been putting great at all for the last half year, but I changed putters two days ago,” said the 22-year-old Van Dam, last year’s Xiamen Ladies Open champion, 22.

“I went for something completely different. Normally I have face-balance and now I have toe-hang. It’s a blade, and normally I have a mallet.”

Van Dam, ranked second in driving distance on tour, with an average drive of 278.60 yards, clearly relished the opportunity to compete in a long-hitting three-ball featuring Brittany Lincicome and Angel Yin, officially first in driving distance at 283 yards.

“We had a lot of fun out there today and yesterday as well,” she said. “We were all under par for two days in a row and we all hit it long, so that helps, helps with the game and we all play aggressively.”

The lively American Solheim Cup player, Yin, 19, insisted on interviewing Van Dam after they finished playing together. “Last year when I played with her, I was like, all that six feet height wasted!,” Yin said. “This year was like, oh, I’m impressed.”

Scotland’s MacDonald credited her caddie, Katy McNicoll, a former Ladies European Tour player and PGA assistant professional at Gullane, for keeping her calm and focused.

Kelsey Macdonald had a stunning round to move into contention.

Kelsey Macdonald had a stunning round to move into contention.

“I just lost confidence kind of during the year, and again, just having someone on the bag that’s just reiterating, you know, my thoughts and going over the same things. It’s just putting the confidence back into me. She’s a great friend, too, so that obviously helps,” said MacDonald.

While Van Dam played a power game, the LET’s 2017 order of merit winner Hall plotted her way to a 67, her six birdies including a 30-feet effort on the ninth, which she played as her final hole.

“I did putt well today and I wanted to take advantage of the morning round, because the greens were in better condition and less wind, so I’m glad I did it,” said Hall, still jet-lagged from her trip from the United States.

“I woke up at midnight and didn’t get back to sleep. I wasn’t in the best of moods today. I’m quite tired, but I played well,” said Hall, who took half a club more on most shots to compensate.

Yuan, who had made one cut from six starts on the LET coming into this week, followed her opening 68 with a 69, although it wasn’t as eventful as the first round, when her ball hit an airborne parrot on the third hole and she went on to make a birdie there.

“I was going to hit my shot and everything was clear and then once I began and I hit my shot, a parrot flew by and I hit it in the air and it passed away. I got my mind off it and focused on my game after that,” she said.

“I never really expected to play like this. Really, I wasn’t striking it very well today, but the score somehow turned out pretty good.”

The half-way cut was made at one-over 145. The 2019 Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew, top English amateur Sophie Lamb and Morocco’s Maha Haddioui were among the notables who missed on the weekend.

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