Stricker one of a kind

By John FeinsteinJune 7, 2011, 1:52 pm

Steve Stricker doesn’t tell the story about how he first met his wife Nicki very often. It’s because 25 years later, telling the story still makes him blush.
 
He was sitting on a golf cart one summer afternoon after a session with Dennis Tiziani, who has been his coach since he was a teen. As he and Tiziani were deep in discussion on the art of the golf swing, a young woman walked past them on her way to go play golf.
 
“I looked up and saw her and kind of elbowed Tiz,” Stricker will say when he is coaxed into telling the story. “I said, ‘Hey, take a look at her. Do you know her?’
 
“He said, ‘Sure do. That’s my daughter, Nicki.’”
 
This is the part where Stricker smiles and turns a little red even though he and Nicki are now married, have two children, and he and Tiziani are player-coach, son-in-law and father-in-law and very close friends.
 
“That’s just Steve,” Nicki Stricker likes to say – something a lot of people say about her husband. “The part of the story he doesn’t tell is that he was so shy I had to ask him out the first time.”
 
Yup, that’s Steve.
 
The word unique is one of the most overused in sports lingo in large part because much like the word ultimate – which doesn’t mean greatest, but final – it is a word many who use it don’t understand. Unique means one of a kind. Very few people and very few stories are truly unique.
 
Stricker and his story are unique.
 
He arrived on the PGA Tour fulltime in 1994 with a sweet putting stroke that people noticed immediately and a no-nonsense caddie who understood his golf swing and his demeanor better than anyone. That would be Nicki, who quickly won the respect of the other caddies with her understanding of the game, of caddie etiquette and of her player.
 
For three years Steve and Nicki were a love story and a success story. Stricker won twice in 1996, made the Presidents Cup team and seemed destined for a long run as a top player on Tour.
 
Then he did what a lot of players do: he signed a contract for a lot of money that involved an equipment change. In 1997, he couldn’t – as players often say – play dead. He went home early that fall to re-tool his swing and his mind. He had a comeback year in 1998 even though he still struggled with the driver and with the fact that Nicki was no longer on the bag. She was pregnant.
 
When he nearly won the PGA Championship at Sahalee that summer, Nicki was home in Wisconsin with the baby due any minute. Every time Steve started to talk about her absence that weekend his eyes clouded and his throat constricted. Everyone understood. It was just Steve being Steve.
 
The next few years were a roller-coaster ride: up to the top with a victory at the 2001 Accenture Match Play; into the Abyss with three straight years out of the top 150 on the money list and a crash that landed him back at the second stage of Q-School at the end of 2005.
 
He managed to survive but didn’t make it through the finals. By then there were two children at home and Stricker wasn’t sure he wanted to play golf for a living anymore. It wasn’t fun missing fairways all day, every day and spending your life scrambling to make pars and cuts.
 
“To be honest, I did think about it,” he said. “But in the end there wasn’t anything else I really wanted to do at that point in my life. The idea of staying home sounded nice but I thought I’d give it one more try.”
 
The story of that winter has been oft-told. He asked Tiziani to come in and take his swing back to square one. The Strickers are Wisconsin people, Midwesterners. They like winter. They owned a home in Florida once but gave it up. So, Stricker and Tiziani worked out of a heated trailer that winter, Stricker pounding balls, Tiziani talking, Stricker pounding some more balls.
 
Somewhere, things began to click. Stricker finished third at Houston that April playing on a sponsor exemption – the kind that good guys get even when their career is in free fall. Then he finished sixth at the U.S. Open and tied for second at the Kemper Open. Q-School was in the rearview mirror. He was voted Comeback Player of the Year. A year later he won for the first time since 2001 in the first FedEx Cup playoff event ever, at Westchester. He was voted Comeback Player of the Year again.
 
“After that Tiger (Woods) said to me in the locker room one day, ‘You realize you’ve set a record that no one, including me, will ever match,’” Stricker said, laughing. “I guess you have to fall a long way to be Comeback Player of the Year twice.”
 
He isn’t going to win it again. He’s now won seven times since those winter sessions and been as high as No. 2 in the world. He’s been the one guy who can consistently handle playing with Woods in The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. The only thing missing from his resume is a major and Stricker, being Stricker, readily admits he would like to win one. None of the Colin Montgomerie, “I’ll have had a great career without a major,” rationales.
 
“I know the window is closing,” he said after his victory Sunday at the Memorial. “I’ve been close a couple of times and I would really like to get one before I’m done. It would mean a lot to me.”
 
Chances are pretty good if he does win a major the 18th green will be awash in tears. Some will come from Stricker. But they’ll come from others, too, people who have watched his unique career for a long time and who know that when he re-tells the story about winning that major and crying afterward, he’ll turn bright red with embarrassment.
 
There will be nothing to be embarrassed about though, that’s for certain. It will be just Steve being Steve.

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.