Presidents Cup a Sign of Strickers Turnaround

By Associated PressSeptember 25, 2007, 4:00 pm
MONTREAL -- At her last Presidents Cup, she carried a 40-pound bag and had sand kicked in her face.
It wasn't the finest moment in their marriage, but they can laugh about it now.
Steve Stricker was a rising American star, among the top 20 golfers in the world, playing in his first Presidents Cup with Arnold Palmer as the U.S. captain and wife Nicki as his caddie. He was partners with Corey Pavin in a fourball match when Stricker hit a terrible bunker shot and lost his temper.
'I turned around and took a big swipe at the sand,' Stricker said. 'And you know who's standing right there? Nicki. I blasted her with all the sand. Pavin to this day still asks me, 'Has Nicki got the sand out of her hair yet?''
That was 11 years ago.
'We felt so young, but we were young back then,' Nicki said. 'In hindsight, I didn't think that would be the last team he was on. I didn't think we'd never make it back.'
Nicki was on the practice range late Monday afternoon at Royal Montreal, standing behind her husband, as always. She is too busy as a mom to be a caddie, giving up the bag for good in 2001. She rarely has time to leave home for golf tournaments, but the Presidents Cup is a family affair and she wasn't about to miss this one.
It was hard to believe so much time has passed since Stricker wore a team uniform. Bob Dole was the Republican nominee for president. The national media left the Presidents Cup on the eve of the final round that year because 20-year-old Tiger Woods, in only his third tournament as a professional, was leading the Quad City Classic.
It was equally difficult to fathom how the Strickers ever got back.
The stories have been told for the last few months now about Stricker's resiliency in returning to where everyone figured he would be. How he failed to get through Q-school and had to beg for sponsor exemptions. How he spent the winter in Wisconsin in a modified mobile home hitting balls out to a snow-covered field with flags frozen into the cup.
Two weeks after making the Presidents Cup team, Stricker ended a 6 1/2 -year drought by winning The Barclays, sobbing at the thought of his wife and two daughters and their parents and their endless support.
Reminders of his remarkable comeback keep piling up.
On Monday, Stricker officially became part of the 'Big Four' when he moved percentage points ahead of Ernie Els at No. 4 in the world ranking. Tuesday morning, he assembled with captain Jack Nicklaus and 11 other Americans for the team photo.
'What a great, great story,' Nicklaus said. 'I'm thrilled for him.'
The solution was hard work, typical of any comeback story in golf.
It required an amazing amount of support from his wife, who knew his potential because she had been there with him in good times and bad. A good golfer when they were dating, Nicki listened as her husband debated a career change and concluded that he was meant to play golf.
'He did this by himself, but not on his own, if that makes any sense,' she said, alluding to the quiet support of those around him. 'He always had all the tools. He needed to dig it out of the dirt, or dig it out of the snow in his case.'
Nicki was the one who asked him out on their first date, although Stricker says there's more to that story. He recalls going to see Wisconsin golf coach Dennis Tiziani for the first time for help on his game, and as they walked by the pool at the club, he noticed a beautiful lifeguard in the chair.
'I said, 'Whoa, who's that girl?' And Tiz said, 'That's my daughter,'' Stricker said with a sheepish laugh. 'I was going to call her up, but figured I ought to wait a couple of days.'
Stricker wound up going to Illinois, but he continued to work with Tiziani until he turned pro, toiled on the smaller golf circuits, became his son-in-law, and established himself on the PGA TOUR with two victories in 1996 and a spot on the Presidents Cup team.
And the family bond grew stronger as his golf became weaker.
'He got himself into this problem, but here's the strength of it,' Tiziani said. 'He got himself out.'
It is not unusual for Stricker to figure things out on his own. Nicki says he can fix anything around the house, although he is not so stubborn that he won't ask for instruction. And of all his fine qualities, this might be the most foreign for a male.
'When we're driving somewhere, he'll stop and ask for directions,' she said.
There was no road map for a golfer who went from failing Q-school to No. 4 in the world in just under two years. The question now is where this journey will lead.
He shot 67 in the final round of the TOUR Championship, officially ending his 2007 season with $4.6 million in earnings and a $3 million retirement bonus for finishing second to Woods in the FedExCup.
The tears began to flow and the voice began to choke with emotion -- no surprise there -- but it was his caddie and longtime friend, Tom Mitchell, who broke down at East Lake as he reflected on how far they had come.
This time, it was Stricker who kept his cool.
'He wanted to hug me,' Stricker said. 'He's in my corner, he's fired up and I am, too. I feel like I should be doing this, and I want to do it. But I didn't want to get too fired up. I just told him, 'We've got bigger things to do yet.''
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  • If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

    Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

    This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

    “I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

    In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

    If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

    “He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

    Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

    By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

    Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

    ''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

    The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

    The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    ''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

    ''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

    First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

    Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

    ''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

    ''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''