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Exhale slowly: Patience the key for Stricker

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Ron Green Jr.
June 16, 2011
— Steve Stricker stood in the soft early summer sunshine Wednesday beside the practice green at Congressional Country Club, his preparation for his 16th U.S. Open essentially complete.

As the world’s fourth-ranked golfer—and the top American—Stricker finds himself as one of the central characters as another national championship begins. His game is built on the skills the U.S. Open demands—patience, perseverance and putting.


“I enjoy it,” the Edgerton native said of the unforgiving nature of U.S. Open golf. “I don’t think I could play it every week, but one time, I like it. It tests every facet of your game, your mental game and your golf game in general. It’s going to test your patience.”


Other than top-ranked Luke Donald, no player arrives on a better roll than Stricker, who won the Memorial two weeks ago. He has finished no lower than 18th in his last six starts and has four top-10 finishes, including his victory at Muirfield Village.


In winning Jack Nicklaus’ tournament, Stricker handled a course that’s similar to Congressional in the demands it puts on players. It’s big and unforgiving, as is Congressional, though the U.S. Open setup traditionally comes with more severe penalties.


After a nine-hole practice round with Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar on Wednesday morning, Stricker sounded like a man prepared for what he’s facing.


“Patience is a huge key,” Stricker said. “Everybody makes bogeys, but if you do hit it in trouble, you have to just get back in play so you have a chance to make a par or no worse than bogey.


“If you make a bogey, you can get it back eventually. But if you try to do it immediately on the next hole, sometimes that can lead to more problems.”


The key, Stricker said, is to drive the ball in play. Congressional features a collection of long par-4 holes that roll gently up and down and are framed on both sides by large hardwoods. If a player starts missing fairways, recovery options can be limited.


However, it’s a long enough course that Stricker said he will primarily hit drivers off the tee rather than play it safely with a 3-wood or hybrid.


Still chasing his first major championship victory, Stricker said he will attempt to play the U.S. Open on the same emotional level he plays other events, though he understands it’s a different animal.


“At the end of the day, it’s still golf,” Stricker said. “Everybody wants to play well. Some guys have higher expectations than others.


“You try to take it easy on yourself, especially this week. It’s easy to get down on yourself so you have to take it easy and try to play your best.”


Stricker seems almost amused by his status as the top-ranked American golfer, ahead of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and everyone else.


“I don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’m No. 4 now. I was No. 2 before. It’s just a number to me.”


It has been earned by Stricker’s consistency, not just recently but over months. It’s what has made him one of the main characters in pre-tournament storylines, even if he wasn’t one of approximately 10 players who did a pre-tournament press conference in the big media center.


“I’ve been consistent for the last five or six years, and I’m coming off a win,” Stricker said. “I hope to keep that momentum going. It’s been a good ride, and I’ve enjoyed it.


“The Open is one of the toughest tests. You have to play great golf. You have to avoid major mistakes. It’s tough, but I feel good about my game.”



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