Sweden’s Henrik Stenson is targeting a strong start to 2020 as he looks to record his 12th European Tour win when he competes at the highly anticipated Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisors, which gets underway on Thursday 30th January.
The 43-year-old who resides in the Middle East is heading back to the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, having debuted in the Championship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, last year.
Now, returning to the course for a second time, Stenson is hoping for a big crowd, with golf continuing to be more popular across Saudi Arabia.
You ended 2019 on a high with victory at the Hero World Challenge. Where do you feel your golf is at currently, and what’s your ambitions for the year and, specifically, the Saudi International?
It was great to end the decade with a win at Hero. I played extremely well all week, putted well and only made about five bogeys all week. I had a nice time with the family over Christmas and I am ready to start 2020 strong. I missed the cut here last year so I want to improve on that and be in contention here come Sunday.
This is your second appearance at the Saudi International. Do you feel that with its strength of field and quality of course that it has the potential to become a permanent annual fixture on most players calendars?
I hope so. Last year it was one of the strongest fields on the European Tour with multiple players competing who were in the top 10 ranked in the world and it looks even stronger this year. I enjoyed playing in the debut year of the tournament and am happy to be back competing again against some of the best players in the world.
2020 marks another Ryder Cup year for American and European players. Does that give players an extra incentive to get a fast start to the year?
Of course. In Ryder Cup year, you always want to be starting the season strong and getting into those automatic qualification places. I enjoyed a good end to my 2019 season and a positive off season, so am looking forward to getting underway and hoping claiming one of those automatic spots.
You’re a regular visitor to the Middle East, competing often in the likes of Dubai and playing in last year’s debut Saudi International. What is it that draws you to this part of the world, and how does the quality of courses and facilities here compare to the rest of the Tour?
The quality of the courses is one reason but also the hospitality. Every course we play on out here is always in pristine condition and we are lucky on the Tour that we get to follow the sun around the world and play golf in the best destinations. The Middle East has been my home for a number of years and the way you are welcomed is second to none.
How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bringing the game into a new market for more fans?
It is always great to see new countries and courses on the schedule. I really enjoy new venues which provide me with a new challenge and Royal Greens Golf & Country Club is exactly that. Introducing the game to new places is only going to help continue to grow the game and I am excited to see the growth in Saudi Arabia between last year and this year.
“The Middle East has been my home for a number of years and the way you are welcomed is second to none.”
Many people in Saudi Arabia will not have attended a golf championship. What can they expect, and what do fans get from watching the golf live and up close that is just impossible to experience through the TV?
It’s always great to see crowds coming to watch us play and if it is their first time I hope that we can all put a good performance on for them. It looks like it is going to be another very strong field again which is amazing for the sport in a new country, as they are able to watch the best players across the globe competing. Watching us play live, you get to experience every shot and even listen in to how the players go about putting their round together with their caddy.
What do you hope to learn from Saudi Arabia during your time competing and how excited are you about playing in the tournament?
Having played in Saudi Arabia last year it will be exciting to see how the country has developed and how much the golf course has evolved over the last 12 months. The tournament was great fun last year, with many top players playing. DJ (Dustin Johnson) proved the number is out there to shoot so it’s always fun when you are making birdies.
More young people in Saudi Arabia are watching sport or taking up sport. What would you say to encourage them to take up golf and what can they learn from the sport?
It is so good to see so many people coming to watch us out here. Even though the sport is relatively new in the country, so many people are already huge fans of the game. If you want to try golf, get yourself down to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club. Golf is a never-ending struggle that is so addictive when you get going and there will always be room to improve and challenge yourself.
Henrik Stenson will be joined by the world’s top golfers including number one ranked Brooks Koepka, as well as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson who claimed victory in last year’s Championship.
The four days of action on the course will also see globally recognized music acts perform in the ‘Ultimate Day Out’ for families and friends with a whole host of activities which can see people pick up a golf club for the first time and learn more about the sport that is so popular around the world.