MY STORY UP TO THE EUROPEAN TOUR
No one in my family played golf. I played soccer and badminton. My first contact with golf was through a friend down the street, Pontus Eriksson, who asked if I wanted to follow him to the driving range. I was hooked immediately. I went home to Mom and Dad and asked for some clubs – and I got them! My parents thought that my interest in the sport would wear off after a few weeks but I came back and asked for more equipment.
My Dad, Ingemar, who had played many sports, came with me when I had my second lesson on the driving range at Gullbringa Golf Club. The pro Richard Bayliss said he was impressed that I was hitting straight shots, which caused my Dad to ask, “Isn’t that the whole point of the game?”.
I played my first rounds when I was 12 and after that first summer I was down to an 18 handicap from the ladies tees. Having achieved this I moved to the men’s tees and reduced my handicap to 9 by the end of the following summer. Gullbringa Golf Club was quite far from home so Mom and Dad drove me there in the morning and picked me up in the evening. These were long days but all my friends were also on the course all day. We played short game competitions, and searched for balls in ponds and ditches. My Mom soon got so tired of washing and drying dirty, wet clothes and shoes that she offered to buy balls instead. But the real attraction was the thrill of the search. Maybe it was my Mother I was thinking of when I took off my clothes at Doral, to avoid soiling my shoes and clothes. During the summer my Dad took up playing because he was tired of sitting in the parking lot listening to me saying “Just one more bucket of balls.” My Dad soon discovered that hitting the ball straight wasn’t as easy as it seemed!
In the beginning I played tournaments mostly at my club and some in the district. The first tournament I won outside my home club was in Orust. My handicap was 9, and I was nervous and angry because I didn’t hit the ball well during warm up at the range before my tee time. Eventually my father told me to calm down or he would take me home. I was level par after the first nine and that was enough to win. This was one of the first times I felt that competitive spirit and realized that I liked the feeling of winning. Peter Gustafsson came second.
I attended district camp for young talents in Kungsbacka, which was where I first met Johan Edfors and Fredrik Jacobson. Back then I had long hair so the coach told Edfors and Jacobson: -“That Stenson girl, she’s got damn good power in her swing.” Now it's vice versa, Edfors has long hair and also excellent power in his swing. Pretty cool that the three of us were paired together at the U.S. Open 2011.
At the age of fifteen I moved to Skåne and Barsebäck Golf and Country Club. It was good for my development to play and train on a much tougher course. Skåne golf district is big so the competition was tougher. I started training with Anders Jansson until 1995 when he moved to Norway, but we still keep in touch as he and his wife Camilla are good friends of ours.
In 1994 I was picked to play on the Swedish boy's team. When the coach, Charlie Westrup, phoned and told me the good news, I was so happy. This was when I came in contact with Torsten Hanson who became my sports psychologist until spring 2008. In 1994 I set myself the big goal of being selected for the Boys’ World Amateur Championship which was in Japan later that year. Thanks to two teen-tour wins that year I was selected for the team together with Peter Davidsson, Johan Carling and Jonas Torines. We felt very tall in Japan, at least a head taller than anyone else. We stayed a couple of hours outside of Osaka. Japan was a nice mix of high tech and ancient history. Heated toilet seats, a moving staircase on the golf course and a lift between a couple of the holes. We had great fun with lots of practical jokes. Unfortunately we only achieved an average result as we seemed more focused on the moving staircase than scoring...
I took part in the Boys’ European Team Championship 1994 in Vilamoura, Portugal. I played in the last group when playing England and the teams were all square so my match went to a play-off which I lost on the first hole against England's Shaun P. Webster, who later played on the European Tour.
In 1995 I started training with Hans Bergdahl. I was the new boy on the men's national team and they kept me in the middle of the pack as I was not the best player on the team. We played the Norwegian Amateur Championship in Stavanger where I met my wife-to-be Emma who was also playing in the tournament. (Actually we never met on that occasion, we just found out afterwards that we were at the same place at the same time, but without noticing each other.)
In 1996 I won a tournament in France, the Peugeot Amateur Classic. The good thing about this victory was that Peugeot also sponsored the French and the Spanish Open. The winner got two wild cards to those European Tour Tournaments. So I made my debut on the ET as an amateur. With scores of 70 & 72 in France I missed the cut by one shot. In the 1997 Spanish Open I scored 72 & 73, also missing the cut by one.
In 1996 I won the Italian Match Play Championship outside Milan, playing Robert-Jan Derksen over 36 holes in the final. It was fun because in the clubhouse there were a board with the names of past champions such as Olazabal and many other famous names, which made it all feel a bit special. That fall I was a reserve on the Swedish team at the Eisenhower Trophy in the Philippines but I didn’t play. What I remember most from that week was that everyone except for me and Christopher Hanell got a stomach bug, but the guys managed to recover for the tournament.
In 1997 I was (re-)introduced to Emma Löfgren through mutual friends. We went to the movies during the Swedish Junior Match Play. She was studying at the University of South Carolina and playing golf for the Gamecocks.
That year I was the best amateur at the Scandinavian Masters at Barsebäck when Joakim Haeggman won. After the tournament I threw myself into the car and drove 1,350 kilometres up to Emma's parents' home, a road trip I´ll never do again. The things you do when you’re in love!
My final effort in 1997 was to win the Greek Amateur Championship that fall.
1998 was my last year as an amateur and I set myself the goal of playing the World Amateur Championship, Eisenhower Trophy in Santiago Chile. I was selected along with Peter Hanson, Christian Nilsson and Anders Hultman, and we came sixth. That was a week of many practical jokes, water balloons from the 23rd floor and other crazy things. "You never grow up – you just learn how to act in public."
Directly after the Eisenhower Trophy, in the autumn of 1998, Peter Hanson and I turned professional and played three professional events on the South American Tour in Argentina. I came 14th in my first professional tournament. All the players had to line up outside the Tournament Office on Sunday to get paid. When it was my turn I was handed approximately $ 2,000 in cash! We stayed at a basic little hotel in Buenos Aires called The Majestic; the standard didn’t match the name. Alanis Morissette was hot on MTV.
Peter and I got invited back to Cordoba in the spring of 1999 to play at Angel Cabrera and Eduardo Romero's home club. With seven holes left to play I led by four shots. However the lack of routine got to me. When the local caddie tried to help by saying “Only seven holes left and you are leading by 4” it was a bit too much to handle. Too much club, adrenaline surging through my body and a three put could not compete with Eduardo Romero´s birdie on the last hole. I lost by one shot.
I enjoyed a great start to the 1999 season on both the Swedish Tour and the Challenge Tour. I played six events on the Challenge Tour with several top 10 finishes and a 2nd place in the Swedish Match Play. I had reached 21st place on the Challenge Tour rankings after just seven tournaments. This got me into the Challenge Tour final in Cuba, where I came 2nd.
The week before the finals I caddied for Emma at the Ladies European Tour qualifications. Being a caddie made me hungry for the game and maybe that was why I did so well the week after in Cuba. Unfortunately Emma didn’t make it into the Ladies European Tour. But she can always blame the caddie!
In 1999 I went to qualify for the European Tour with my friend Mark Montal as a caddie. I played all six rounds but didn’t get my tour card. Looking back it was probably a good thing. After my good results on the Challenge Tour in 1999, I had full eligibility for 2000 and my goal going into that season was to win the Challenge Tour Order of Merit. The season started well with a second place in Kenya behind Trevor Immelman and then in Spain a playoff loss against John Rydström. Then came the victory in Luxembourg after a three-man playoff with Nicolas Colsaerts and Nils Rörbaeck. Emma was caddying that week and apparently she brought me better luck than when I caddied for her. After some other good results and a win in Sweden I won the Tour final in Cuba by five shots and reached my goal of winning the 2000 Order of Merit. This was when Robert Lee, commentator on Sky, gave me the nickname Iceman.
I got my card for the European Tour and as they say, the rest is history.