Here on the volcanic Jeju island, 60 miles off the south tip of South Korea in the Yellow Sea, the Pinx Golf Club is set to stage the second Ballantine’s Championship. An eclectic field includes Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and defending champion Graeme McDowell, yet the topic on conversation that keeps re-emerging is Henrik Stenson’s pants.
It’s not as if it’s a particularly new story – the fact that Stenson stripped down to his undies to play a shot from the water’s edge during the first round of the WGC CA Championship at Florida’s Doral Resort on March 12 – but it is an incident from which the world number nine cannot shake free.
“The whole thing has had a much greater impact than I thought it would,” Stenson tells Golf Monthly. “I expected to see the pictures a few times, and to sign a few of them, and to receive a few comments from my Tour colleagues, but then when I was at the Masters a few friends in the crowd overheard one person say to another, ‘there’s that guy who played three or four holes in his underwear’. The story lives on and I don’t know where it is going to end up if it keeps going in that direction.”
The Swede also quashed the rumour that he had pulled the stunt in order to gain exposure for a pants endorsement, although in the days following his impromptu strip he did receive an offer along those lines.
“I was contacted by an underwear company who wanted to do something, but it’s not going to happen,” says Stenson, who is the highest ranked player in the World Ranking at this week’s tournament. Dealing with the issue in good humour, he would later confess that his suitor was budget American underwear brand Hanes, a company that already enlists former NBA star Michael Jordan among its endorsees.
“Hopefully I can play some good golf here in Korea and win a few fans over here with my clothes on,” he added.
The tournament starts tomorrow, and at this hilltop golf course at an altitude of an estimated 1,500 feet above sea level, the forecast is for 20 mph winds, which will rise as the tournament progresses.
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