190628_STRICKER

Steve Stricker watches his tee shot on the 13th hole during the opening round of the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament Thursday, June 27, 2019, at Warren Golf Course in South Bend, Ind. Stricker came off a disappointing finish Sunday at the American Family Championship at University Ridge to shoot a 62 in the first round of the U.S. Senior Open. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP)

Like all of us, Steve Stricker has his down days.

Maybe just not as many.

Monday and Tuesday were among them. Even worse, Stricker’s wife Nicki also was not in the best of spirits.

Stricker missed a chance to win a tournament he hosts, the PGA Tour Champions American Family Insurance Championship, at University Ridge on Sunday afternoon. He missed an 8-foot putt on 18 for the win, then was eliminated from a playoff that longtime golf buddy Jerry Kelly ultimately won.

Stricker doesn’t toss clubs, but he must have had the urge after missing the chance to win before friends and family just up Interstate 90 from his hometown of Edgerton.

“It bugs you,” Stricker told reporters. “It was eating at me, given that opportunity to win and not winning.”

Stricker was in a better mood last night. He went out Thursday and shot an 8-under-par 62 to tie David Toms for the first-round lead at the U.S. Senior Open at Notre Dame, Indiana. The Edgerton native and Madison resident carded eight birdies and an eagle in the major tournament.

Beside him was Nicki, who carried the clubs, just as she did at the American Family Championship and in several other tournaments this year.

The couple’s two daughters, Bobbi and Izzy, joined them at Notre Dame on Thursday.

“The kids have been traveling with us quite a bit this year,” Stricker said, according to the transcript of his post-round press conference. “So it’s become kind of a family affair again on Tour with Nicki caddying and the girls coming along. It’s been a fun year.”

Especially Thursday when Stricker carded only the fifth 62 in U.S. Senior Open history, just hours after Toms had the fourth in a morning round. Kelly continued his hot play with a 64.

Stricker, who has played some regular PGA Tour events and minimal Tour Champions (Seniors) events the past two years, has never played in a U.S. Senior Open.

“I wish I would have played in more of them,” he said.

“It feels like a major. Just like throughout my career on the regular Tour, I had a few opportunities here and there, but never was able to win one.

“I figure, you know what, let’s try to win some out here on the Champions Tour. It motivates me a lot.”

Stricker said the Warren Golf Course held up great after heavy rain hit the area Wednesday night. Usually when courses are soft, the players in the afternoon rounds are at a disadvantage on both fairways and greens after the traffic from players in the morning rounds.

And Stricker took advantage, aiming for the pin and making several 10-foot-plus putts for birdies.

“Putting has been a little bit of my bugaboo this year,” he said. “But I seemed to figure that out today.”

Unlike on No. 18 on Sunday, when the winning putt unexpectedly broke away from the hole and left both Strickers frustrated. It was a quiet drive home from University Ridge.

“I was just ornery.” Stricker said. “I didn’t sleep worth a lick Sunday and Monday night. It was just eating at me.”

Nicky might have been more upset, which actually helped Steve get ready for this week’s major.

“I think that upset her just as much—I ended up consoling her a lot,” Stricker said. “I’m like, ‘Listen, come on, we’re going to have more opportunities. We’re all right. We did a lot of good things last week.’

“Actually, telling her those things probably reiterated those in my mind. Telling myself, ‘Hey listen, I hit the shot that I needed to hit on 18. Gave myself the opportunity. Didn’t make the putt.’

“So I was anxious to play.”

Stricker tees off for his second round at 8:41 this morning on top of the leaderboard. Everything seems to have worked out pretty good.

Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette. Reach him at tmiller@gazettextra.com.

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Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette. Reach him at tmiller@gazettextra.com.

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