Mr Dependable

By John HawkinsJuly 14, 2010, 1:22 am

In a previous life, Steve Stricker was a rising young star whose breakthrough season, 1996, featured a pair of PGA Tour victories and a berth on the U.S. Presidents Cup team. His ballstriking was as dodgy as his putting was reliable, however, and when a man tries to make a living by making 15-footers for par, he eventually finds himself searching for reasons, answers and larger paychecks.

Stricker bottomed out in 2003, began the long climb back in ’06, and since the summer of ’07, he has won six tour events, four of them against premium fields. His golf swing, formerly an educated collection of moving parts, has become as airtight as any you’ll find. Seven years ago, Stricker ranked 190th in driving accuracy, hitting barely 48 percent of his fairways – fewer than some guys do by accident. This year, he’s 23rd, which is more than just turning things around.

Steve Stricker
Stricker’s improved accuracy should bode well for him at St. Andrews. (Getty Images)
From there, the game gets a bit easier. Improved position off the tee has helped Stricker become one of the tour’s best wedge players – he has ranked near the top in every category between 50 and 150 yards for three consecutive seasons. With virtually no wrist hinge in his short-iron backswing, Stricker's abbreviated takeaway produces a more manageable ball flight and less backspin. It also means those 15-footers for par are now 12-footers for birdie.

At 280 yards per drive, give or take a step, Stricker isn’t going to overpower courses, but with a scoring club in his hand, he has become precise and dependable. When you putt like he does, closer may be better, but anywhere on the green is OK. “Even when things weren’t going well, he still made more 40-footers than anyone alive,” says fellow Wisconsinite Jerry Kelly, a nod to his friend’s standing as one of the best distance putters in the business.

So he hits it straight, hits it tight and holes a lot of putts. One can see Stricker factoring prominently this week at St. Andrews, the biggest question being whether he’ll arrive in Scotland mentally refreshed after winning last week in the Midwest. Although the British Open can be a serious grind, Americans have won 11 of the last 15 gatherings – Tiger Woods three times, eight other Yanks once apiece.

There isn’t any real evidence to suggest heading overseas early helps you win the tournament, or that the adjustment to links golf requires lengthy preparation. At Carnoustie in 1997, Stricker played his way into Sunday's final group alongside Sergio Garcia, then missed three putts inside 5 feet on the front nine, a cause of death far more likely to afflict the man he was playing with.

Sergio would lose to Padraig Harrington in a playoff, and before long, tumble into the tailspin that continues to define his career. Stricker's comeback, meanwhile, was just beginning to take flight. Three years later, there isn't much left for him to do besides win a major. At age 43, there isn't much time left for him to do it.

What made last week’s victory so nice was the timing. Stricker heads into the biggest summer of his career in excellent form, with St. Andrews representing one of his better chances to claim a claret jug. His relatively low, right-to-left ball flight should prove valuable at the Old Course, where wind and rain have been dominating the week-long weather forecast. Veteran caddie Jimmy Johnson, who was on Nick Price’s bag when Price won his lone British title in 1994, has played a key role in transforming Stricker from a good player to a very good one. Never will that influence seem more crucial to their success than it will this week.

August’s PGA Championship offers Stricker a rare chance to play in a major in his home state. He didn’t qualify for the ’04 PGA at Whistling Straits – finishing 189th on the previous year’s money list will do that to you. With Tiger Woods still searching for his first victory in 2010, there is a FedEx Cup championship and a Player of the Year trophy to be had. So much fruit on the vine, only so many opportunities to pluck it.

Since leaving Charles Howell III to work for Stricker two years ago, a big part of Johnson’s job has been convincing Stricker that he is indeed one of the world’s best golfers. Humble to an extreme before he endured five years of futility, Stricker’s lack of self-confidence isn’t what it was in ‘03, but he’ll never acquire the alpha-dog traits of Woods or Phil Mickelson, either. After squandering a three-stroke lead with a final-round 77 at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic, Johnson saw the down side.

That seems like a long time ago. Five victories ago, to be exact. This time next week, maybe it will be six.

Getty Images

Angela hits Sergio in stride on field at Superdome

By Grill Room TeamDecember 18, 2017, 3:22 pm

Sergio and Angela Garcia's super 2017 keeps getting more ... Super ... Dome. (+1 awful blog lede.)

The couple started the year with Sergio's win at the Masters, then embarked on a whirlwind green jacket media tour, then kicked off El Clasico, then attended Wimbledon, then got married, then announced they were expecting their first child ...

2017 Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

And now, they're throwing each other passes on the New Orleans Saints' home turf at the Superdome.

Man, it must be so cool do that at the Silverdome. ... ... ... I'm sorry, it is the Superdome, brothers.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm

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.