ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP)Tossing and turning, Henrik Stenson had a bad night’s sleep ahead of his first appearance on the European tour since being removed as Ryder Cup captain for joining the Saudi-run breakaway league.
It was nothing to do with any trepidation about the reception he’d get from his fellow players.
”It’s been great,” the 46-year-old Stenson said after starting the Abu Dhabi Championship – his first non-LIV Golf event in six months – with a 4-under 68 on Thursday. ”It’s been a while. It’s been good fun to catch up with some long-time friends that I haven’t seen for a long time.”
Indeed, the reason for Stenson having a sleepless night was jet lag after his flight to the Middle East – and maybe some frustration at his clubs failing to turn up until Tuesday night.
”All in all, no practice round. First shots on grass this morning – happy with that,” he said.
Stenson chose the guaranteed money of LIV Golf over the Ryder Cup, a decision which not only cost him the Europe captaincy but, for some, sullied his legacy as one of the best and most popular European golfers since the turn of the century.
Stenson said there has been no hostility toward him, though.
”Absolutely,” he replied after being asked if he felt welcome back on the tour. ”No question.”
So, any regrets?
”No, I made my decision and obviously Ryder Cup Europe made theirs,” he said. ”Yeah, it’s not great but it is what it is, and Ryder Cup has been a huge part of my career.
”I wish Luke (Donald, his replacement) all the best with the team going forward and we’ll see where we all end up in the long run with this.”
Stenson was referring to the legal case between the European tour and some LIV golfers which should reach its verdict next month.
The tour is waiting to discover if it has the right to issue bans to those members who joined LIV without clearance. Initial bans were lifted last year by a British arbiter, pending a full legal review, meaning LIV players are still able to play on the tour in the meantime.
”The way I look at it, when all of us went to play on the PGA Tour back in the day, we shouldn’t have been welcomed back, either, then,” Stenson said. ”There’s multiple tours in the world and as far as I’m concerned, as long as you fulfil your criteria and earn your right to be there, you should be able to play in as many tournaments as you like.
”But I haven’t had anyone step up to me personally and vent those thoughts.”
Stenson acknowledged it has been a ”rocky road” since making his decision to join LIV Golf.
”I hope we end up in a place where everything works out the best for everyone, players, spectators, tours and everything else,” he said.
”I think, for the most part, people are above that. If you’re friends with someone, you’re friends with them no matter where they choose to work. And sometimes even if someone makes a decision that you don’t necessarily agree with or think is the right one with the information and the circumstances that you have in front of you . . . but if you’re friends, you can look past that, and that’s what I feel here.”
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