Stricker's schedule paying off, could be blueprint for others

By Jason SobelMarch 27, 2013, 10:29 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Hey, did you hear the one about the old professional golfer? He didn’t retire – he just lost his drive! You know, speaking of retirement, it’s no pressure, no stress and no heartache – unless you play golf!

Without turning the local 19th hole into a Chuckle Hut with a two-drink minimum, the cross-referenced list of golf and retirement jokes is as long and painful as it usually takes to tell them. We get it. People get old, they stop working, they play more golf, hilarity ensues. (Hold the hilarity.)

When it comes to elite-level pros, the stark reality is that old golfers never retire. As Neil Young might shriek, they either burn out or fade away.

Jerry Barber is the oldest player to play in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event, competing in the 1994 Buick Invitational at the age of 77 years, 10 months and 9 days. You’ll never believe it, but he missed the cut. Arnold Palmer was 74 when he played for the last time. Gary Player was 73 – but that’s only if you believe the 1,000 sit-up-a-day marvel won’t plan a comeback anytime soon.

All of which leads us – as methodically as one of those tired jokes – to Steve Stricker.

At 46, Stricker would like everyone to know that he’s neither old nor retired, though the latter needs a little more explanation. The 12-time champion has elected to play what is artfully being called a “selective schedule,” which shouldn’t be confused with other elite players’ “selective schedules” because, well, it’s even more selective.

So far this season, he has played three events, with this week’s Shell Houston Open serving as his fourth. As of now, the plan is to compete in 11 total tournaments, though Stricker maintains his competitive juices could get the better of him later in the year.

Shell Houston Open: Articles, videos and photos

“That can change, I guess, depending on how I play the next seven events or eight events,” he admitted. “If I'm up high on the FedEx Cup or if I have an opportunity to make the Presidents Cup team, I maybe play the playoff events, something like that. I still plan on playing my 11 and going from there.”

Whatever he’s doing is working. Stricker finished in sole possession of second place at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, in a share of fifth at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and added another solo second at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He's already racked up $1.82 million in earnings, which based on last year’s money list would place him 44th at season’s end without pocketing another dime.

Of course, that’s highly unlikely. While most players need plenty of “reps” – as Tiger Woods famously calls them – in order to contend for titles, the less Stricker plays, the better he seems to fare.

“I always have come out and done fairly well when I'm fresh,” he said. “Whether that's a mental thing, I don't know. But I enjoy coming out. I feel like I'm a little bit easier on myself. I'm fresher mentally. I feel like there's a little more bounce in my step.”

All of which should lead to one very important question: If Stricker can play some of his best golf with a limited schedule, can this strategy serve as a blueprint for the likes of fellow 40-somethings Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Jim Furyk in coming years?

It’s a relevant query with so many big-name stars reaching the point in their careers where the week-in, week-out grind may not hold much allure. Playing less affords more family time at home while, unlike in previous generations, the need to earn money isn’t much of a dangling carrot. To wit: Stricker’s three-event total this season is just $41,857 behind Palmer’s career haul.

Of course, more professional golfers in their mid-40s are forced into a “selective schedule” than actually select it. Which is to say, you’d better find success if you want to enjoy the spoils.

Based on his eight victories in the previous four years, Stricker is fully exempt on the PGA Tour through the year 2017. If he so chooses, he could then use a one-time top-25 career earnings exemption followed by a top-50 exemption (he’s currently eighth on the all-time list), which would keep him as a full-time member through the age of 52. Failure to play the minimum of 15 tournaments only eliminates his voting privileges for such things as Player of the Year.

Meanwhile, he’s already easily qualified for each of the four major championships and WGC events – a schedule which could someday make him a trailblazer when it comes to how elite players view the back nine of their careers.

“I suppose you could play like that, if you’re exempt for those tournaments,” said 39-year-old Lee Westwood. “I could only talk for myself, but I’ve always felt that I need to play a bit. I find it difficult to take six weeks off and then come back in match fit and ready. But he’s done it his whole career, so why not? You have to do whatever suits you.”

For now, spending his off weeks in snowy Wisconsin while driving his kids to school has suited Stricker just fine – both on and off the course. He attended the Big 10 Conference men’s basketball tournament for the first time and plans on catching a few Final Four games in Atlanta before driving over to Augusta for the Masters. Meanwhile, his peers will be grinding away at the range and practice green, trying to find the form that never seems to leave him.

So, that old joke about retirement being no pressure, no stress and no heartache unless you play golf? It doesn’t apply to Steve Stricker.

Then again, neither does the term retirement.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.