July 23, 2023 | 4:36 p.m
HOYLAKE, England – Hours before Brian Harman won the 151st British Open amid a steady, drenching rain late Sunday afternoon at Royal Liverpool, the 2016 winner of the claret jug capped a fairly respectable week at 3-under par to finish tied for 13th.
There was no fanfare surrounding Henrik Stenson when he walked off 18, signed his card and quietly left the course.
The affable 47-year-old Swede seems more of an outsider these days than a famous former Open champion who outlasted Phil Mickelson in an epic final-round duel that inspired Jack Nicklaus to write him a letter of admiration after watching it.
Stenson had to prepare for the Ryder Cup as European captain with the biennial competition just two months away in Rome. But it is a year since this week that the European Tour and Ryder Cup Europe stripped Stenson of his captaincy when he announced he was joining LIV Golf.
He has been persona non grata since Ryder Cup Europe officials stripped him publicly and condemned his decision to join LIV, replacing him with Luke Donald.
In an exclusive conversation with The Post, Stenson was melancholy about how the Ryder Cup captaincy experience ended, insisting that not only would he have been able to fulfill his obligations as captain while still playing LIV, but that no one from the DP World Tour or Ryder Cup Europe would agree to sit down with him and talk.
“I’m just disappointed with everything that came out, because there was a great willingness on my part to sit down and talk long before this thing got to where it did,” Stenson said. “That’s my disappointment – that there were certain people, without naming names, who didn’t want to sit down and take those meetings.
“And as a consequence, I feel we ended up in all this that could have been avoided. But we live and learn.”
What makes Stenson’s situation particularly awkward is that, since all the anti-LIV antics that arguably made him the biggest victim of the backlash against the Saudi-backed tour, the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV have all jumped into bed together in an alliance that’s been vaguely called “a framework agreement.”
Still, despite the parties all agreeing to co-exist, Stenson remains in the same place he’s been for a year – hung out for dry, publicly stripped-down captaincy duties he loved taking on as a five-time Ryder Cup player.
“A lot of these decisions are not on my plate,” Stenson said of the alliance announced June 6. “We’ll see where it ends up – from the Ryder Cup to memberships on the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour and everything else. I’m just stuck right now.”
He sits near the outside looking in as the excitement for the Ryder Cup builds – without his involvement.
Stenson admitted that being stripped of his captaincy last year “was tough times, not fun times, but it was out of my hands.”
“I knew I could have fulfilled my obligations as captain but the DP World Tour and Ryder Cup Europe obviously didn’t see it that way and that’s why they made that decision,” he continued. “I want to look forward and not back.”
Asked what his feelings will be at the end of September when the Ryder Cup begins, Stenson said: “I’ve played in five Ryder Cups and was vice-captain in one and there will always be some good memories of the camaraderie and some of those mates are still there.
“I am not alone in this; the guys that I would have had as my vice-captains, we kind of all ended up in the same boat,” Stenson continued, referring to Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, who all also went to LIV Golf and were rejected by the DP World Tour.
Stenson will surely agonize over what might have been when the Ryder Cup arrives in late September.
Although he’s not revered as much as many think he should be because of the Ryder Cup taint, when Stenson shows up to play the British Open, he’ll always have 2016 and that final-round 63 that did the job.
“I hear about that round quite often with fans saying it was the best round of golf they’ve ever seen,” Stenson said. “I got a handwritten note from Jack that said, ‘Tom [Watson] and I played well against each other at Turnberry [the famous 1977 ‘Duel in the sun’], but you played better.’ It was quite flattering. I have that in the trophy cabinet at home.”
It must be done in September, when Stenson watches from afar the European Ryder Cup he was supposed to captain.