AP Photo
July 18, 2017

SOUTHPORT, England (AP) Henrik Stenson has ambitious plans to go skydiving with the claret jug if he manages to retain the British Open title at Royal Birkdale this week.

On current form, that's a long shot - and Stenson acknowledges as much.

Owning the most famous trophy in golf for the past year has been a privilege for Stenson. He has traveled the world with it, drank champagne from it, taken it on a jet ski back home in Orlando.

''It's almost become part of the family,'' he said Tuesday.

The jug has also been something of a burden, though. Being Open champion and everything that goes with it - media commitments, sponsorship demands, photos with fans - can take its toll on a player. In Darren Clarke's case, for example, he struggled for motivation after winning the 2011 Open because he had ''got to the top of the mountain.''

''What else can compare to it?'' Clarke said two months after winning at Royal St. George's for his first major title at age 43. ''What else is there to do?''

Stenson says the demands on his time, and being stuck in the past as he constantly revisits those life-changing four days at Royal Troon last year, have held him back. He hasn't won a tournament since and isn't striking the ball as well, especially in his long game.

So, as much as it was a wrench, perhaps handing back the claret jug to Royal & Ancient chief executive Martin Slumbers at a ceremony on the first tee at Birkdale on Monday signals a new start for the 41-year-old Swede.

''In golf, I guess you're only a couple of good shots from picking up some nice solid feelings and from having a really good week,'' Stenson said.

''So I hope this could be the case and more than anything I'm going to enjoy being out there. I worked hard my whole career to be able to win that championship last year, and I can't really put the pressure on myself that I'm going to win it again.''

Stenson described himself as a ''perfectionist'' so it's been tough for him to miss the cut at five of his last six appearances in PGA Tour events, including the Masters and the U.S. Open. He shot a 4-under 68 in his last competitive round before the British Open - at the Scottish Open on Sunday - but still was downhearted after two late bogeys, which dropped him to a tie for 26th.

In fact, he hasn't been happy with his play since the start of 2016, save for that stretch in the summer of 2016 when he won the BMW International Open in Germany followed by the Open Championship three weeks later.

Maybe being back at the British Open, and playing on a course he says is ''one of my favorite tracks,'' can inspire him.

''We're about ready to start focusing on what's in front of us rather than what's behind us,'' he said.

''I've made an official promise that if I ever win the claret jug again, I'm going skydiving with it. And I don't know which is going to be harder, winning the claret jug again or going skydiving afterwards because that thought scares me a little bit. It won't stop me from trying to win it, though.''

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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