Rejuvenated Stricker back at Sony, wants to win again

By Doug FergusonJanuary 13, 2016, 6:22 pm

HONOLULU – Steve Stricker decided three years ago to start cutting back on his schedule. Now he can't wait to get started.

That's why he left Wisconsin for the California desert the day after Christmas for six days of hard work, followed by a trip to the North Shore of Oahu for a week of work and play before starting his season at the Sony Open.

At first, he barely beat his daughter. Bobbi Maria, a senior in high school who devoted the fall to tennis, shot a 79. Her dad, a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, shot 73.

''And then I shot 8 under and 10 under the next two days. I beat her by 20 after that,'' Stricker said with a laugh.

He turns 49 next month. He helped bring a Champions Tour event to his home state of Wisconsin this year. On the practice green Tuesday at Waialae, he was surrounded by players who had not even started kindergarten when Stricker began his PGA Tour career.

And he's not ready to stop just yet.

''I feel younger this year than I did at times last year,'' Stricker said.

Sony Open in Hawaii: Articles, photos and videos

The Sony Open is the first full-field event of the new year, and this won't be a cameo appearance for Stricker. He still plans a limited schedule. Being home for his wife and two daughters remains a priority. He also wants to give himself a fair chance at winning.

''My No. 1 goal is to win again,'' he said. ''I'm hitting the ball not much differently from five years ago. It's about getting it in the hole, and I've been grinding on my putter for the last five months.''

Stricker, who had surgery on his back on Christmas Eve in 2014, didn't play until the Masters last year and tied for 28th. He played only nine more times and didn't fare much better, and he faced the harsh reality of a player in semi-retirement. He wasn't eligible for any of the World Golf Championships, and he wasn't in the U.S. Open for the first time in five years. This year, he isn't guaranteed a spot in any of the big events.

His world ranking, which reached as high as No. 2 in September 2009, has dropped all the way to No. 245.

It's about the world ranking. It's not about the money. It's not even about hanging on.

Stricker didn't mind easing his way back into golf last year, especially after back surgery. And he concedes to feeling older than he really was. Maybe it was the time away from the competition that rekindled his excitement.

Whatever the case, he plans to compete 15 times and play enough to get into a rhythm. He played back-to-back weeks only one time last year. His plan is to head from Honolulu to La Quinta, California. He'll go to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (with country singer Toby Keith as his partner), and he might play Riviera if the forecast is right.

''I'm excited to play,'' he said.

Jordan Spieth, who won by eight shots last week on Maui, is taking the week off. Brandt Snedeker is the only player from the top 5 at Kapalua who is playing the Sony Open, a traditional course just beyond the shores of Waikiki with smaller greens and tighter fairways.

The field also includes Adam Scott, who at No. 11 is the highest-ranked player in the field, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Kevin Kisner from the top 20.

Stricker spent an hour on the putting green. There were no chalk lines on the grass, tees in the ground or anything else to help with his alignment. He putts for feel, and that carried him to a remarkable resurgence that took him from no PGA Tour card to three Ryder Cup teams and contending in majors again.

Can he get back to that?

Stricker already has signed up as a vice captain for Davis Love III in the Ryder Cup. And he is aware of the huge generation shift on the PGA Tour, particularly among Americans such as Spieth and Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

And to think it was just over two years ago when Stricker and Spieth played a money game with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Stricker made seven birdies and an eagle to carry the day, and then he helped Spieth settle into his matches during their partnership at the Presidents Cup.

''I remember those days,'' Stricker said with a smile. ''Those days are long gone.''

He can't spend as much time on the range because of the wear and tear on his body. But he can still putt. He feels rejuvenated. And he wants to see how far that will take him.

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)

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Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.

By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2018, 3:30 pm

Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.

Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.

Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.

It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.

That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.

“Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.

“For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”

Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.

“We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”

After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.

Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.

And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.

Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.

“I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”

Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.

“She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.

And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.

“I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”

Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.

There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.

In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.

“I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”

Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.

“Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.

Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.

“Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’

“She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”