Steve Stricker might be the most popular practice round golf partner at future major tournaments.
The Edgerton native and Madison resident always has been one of the most popular players on the PGA and now Champions tours.
In 2013, Tiger Woods was in a putting slump. Stricker offered an impromptu putting lesson before the 2013 Doral Open. Woods won the event. Stricker finished second. Woods took home the trophy and $1.5 million for first place. Stricker settled for $880,000.
Woods’ victory after the well-publicized lesson pushed Stricker into the role of unofficial PGA putting guru—and the top target for good-natured jabs.
Rory McIlroy, the No.1-ranked player in the world at the time, sent Stricker the following text: “PUT A SOCK IN IT NEXT TIME, MAN. YOU AWAKENED THE BEAST. WITH FRIENDS LIKE YOU, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES? SIGNED, JUST A GUY WHO WANTS TO HANG ON TO THE NO. 1 RANKING FOR A FEW WEEKS LONGER.”
“I’m hearing it all over the place,” Stricker said later. “Some of them are joking, and I think some are serious.”
Stricker and Woods met up again last week at TPC Harding Park near San Francisco in preparation for the PGA Championship. Woods is using a new putter—which was headline news among golf media.
Stricker asked about it during their practice round Wednesday—Davis Love III joined in— but said there was not a lesson. Stricker explained that the longer putter lessened the discomfort Woods still feels after back surgeries.
Stricker then recalled that week more than seven years ago at Doral.
“By the time the 45 minutes or an hour was up that I was putting with him, the confidence that he had was like a light switch; a light bulb went on for him,” Stricker said according to a transcript of Wednesday’s press conference. “And then he made a lot of putts in the first and second rounds, and his confidence just grew.”
Putting wasn’t the only conversation during that practice round in 2013. Stricker was working on Woods’ participation in his other hobby—deer hunting. Stricker is an avid deer hunter who owns acres of land in the area.
“I’m trying to get him up there in the deer stand,” Stricker said at the time. “He’s getting closer to doing it.”
It’s doubtful that Woods has a head of a Rock County buck on the wall in his basement, but you never know.
The point is Stricker has always been a popular playing partner.
Being the captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team has only increased his popularity, if that is possible.
The Ryder Cup—a three-day competition between U.S. and European golfers that takes place every two years—was scheduled to take place in late September at Whistling Straits, the course on the shoreline of Lake Michigan near Sheboygan.
But like most everything else these days, the competition was pushed back to next September due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Stricker would love to guide the U.S. team to a victory in his home state. The U.S. has only won the Ryder Cup twice in the past nine competitions.
“I love this job, three years of it,” Stricker said of his captaincy. “Obviously, we all wish that we could be playing this September.
“There’s been a lot of positive feedback that I’ve received from the people at home that it’s the right call.”
The move to next September has increased Stricker’s workload. Because of the added time to select the 12-member U.S. squad, Stricker now will get to hand pick six of the U.S. team players instead of four, which has always been the case.
The other six players are determined by point totals earned during tounaments.
Although golf is an individual sport, team camaraderie is an important part of Ryder Cup competition.
It is Stricker’s job to get to know all the possible players for the team. That is why he has entered 10 PGA Tour events—with his best finish a tie for 18th—and only one Champions Tour event—where he finished fifth.
He still enjoys the added competition level of the PGA Tour and the long-bombing new generation, but Ryder Cup considerations remain his priority—even with the added year of preparation.
“Next year, as we get closer to the Ryder Cup, it will be more about just trying to formulate the team, see who is playing well, look at the possible pairings and watch a lot of golf,” he said.
The pandemic-caused delay in the Ryder Cup also made Stricker rip up his 2021 event calendar.
“My plan was to play the Ryder Cup this September and then play mainly Champions events next year,” Stricker said. “That’s changed. I’ll be back out here playing some more of the regular tour just to be out here.”
His remaining 2020 schedule is a mix of the two tours.
“As far as the Champions Tour, I’ll sprinkle a few of those in,” Stricker said. “I’m playing next week in Firestone, and maybe in Branson, Missouri, a couple in September.
“I’m exempt for the U.S. Open on the regular tour, so I’ll play that in September. So yeah, I’ll be bouncing back and forth.”
Which brings us to this past week in San Francisco.
Stricker, Woods and Love III played a practice round Wednesday, the day before the PGA Championship began.
On Tuesday, the 53-year-old Stricker played a practice round with a 23-year-old young gun.
“I played with Collin Morikawa,” Stricker said of his Tuesday at Harding Park. “A kid that I haven’t even barely met before.
“It gives me a tremendous amount of time, extra time, to know some of these kids that potentially could make the team.”
Stricker missed making the cut by two strokes at the PGA Championship.
His new friend, Morikawa, won the major tournament.
The win vaulted Morikawa seven spots into third place in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings, behind Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and ahead of Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Webb Simpson for the six automatic spots on next year’s team.
But there are many tournaments left to play before September 2021.
You can bet there will be plenty of hands up if Stricker ever needs playing partners in future tournaments.
Just ask Collin Morikawa.