Stricker Begins the Long Road Back

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 3, 2001, 5:00 pm
Wednesday's first round match between 10th-seeded Padraig Harrington and 55th-seeded Steve Stricker marked an exhaustive end to one player's season and a breath of life to the other's career.
Harrington regards this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship as the final event of his 2000 season. The Irishman stated he plans to take six weeks off following his stay in Melbourne, Australia.
Unfortunately for Harrington, his vacation came a bit earlier than anticipated.
Harrington fell to Stricker 2-and-1 at the Metropolitan Golf Course.
Both Harrington and Stricker first made a name for themselves in 1996. Harrington won the Peugeot Open de Espana as a rookie on the European Tour. Stricker captured the Kemper Open and Western Open in his third full season on the PGA Tour.
By year's end Stricker had risen to 12th on the Official World Golf Ranking, while Harrington cracked the top 100 at 95th.
Since then, however, the Irishman's stock has risen while the American's has plummeted.
Entering Australia, Harrington is ranked 24th in the world. Stricker has fallen to 90th.
Since '96, Harrington has won twice and qualified for the '99 European Ryder Cup Team. Stricker has but a pair of runner-up finishes and an outstanding string of missed cuts to his credit.
The 33-year-old Wisconsin native is making his first official start since the Bell Canadian Open in September. He missed the cut that week, leaving him with a streak of four consecutive missed cuts entering the New Year.
So, all things considered, Stricker's first-round victory over Harrington was an upset. Right?
'In my mind I don't think it was an upset,' Stricker said. 'I feel like I am a good enough player to beat anybody if I get my game going.'
That's been a rare occurrence for Stricker, however.
After freefalling from 4th to 130th on the season-ending money list in 1997, Stricker temporarily got his game going near the end of his '98 campaign. The former Illinois All-America recorded eight top-10s in his final ten starts, including a second-place finish at the PGA Championship and ties for fifth at both the U.S. Open and Tour Championship.
Unfortunately, Stricker's late-season surge didn't prove to be a catalyst to the 1999 season. He made only half of what he had earned the year prior, dropping from 13th to 64th on the money list.

1999 was hardly a disaster, though. Stricker continued to display his apparent skills in the season's toughest tournaments. For the year, Stricker notched three top-10s; two of those came in a tie for sixth at THE PLAYERS Championship and a second straight fifth-place finish at the U.S. Open.
Last year, Stricker's topsy-turvy career again troughed as he missed ten cuts in 21 starts, including the aforementioned four in a row to close the season. He also managed but one top ten, thus increasing the lingering doubt as to whether he should quit the game.
'I think about it a lot,' said Stricker. 'It's just the fact that I'm disappointed because I know where I once was and how I feel about it right now. I am not fond of all the travel either. I feel like I have been doing this my whole life.
'I think if you talk to any Tour player they all have had those thoughts when they are not playing well. But I am a big competitor. I can't just give up. I mean, what would that show to everyone? I love to compete.'
Competitively, Stricker averages only about 20 starts each year on the PGA Tour. He admits that stashing away the clubs earlier than most may damage his game, 'but it's sure is great for the mind.'
In reference, Stricker said: 'I guess at some point in time if I want to become a better player, I'm going to have to play a little bit longer. Those are the decisions I'm going to have to make come the end of the year time.'
That decision might be made a bit easier this year with his wife, Nicki, returning to his bag at next week's Touchstone Energy Tucson Open. His mother plans to come along to help care for their 2-year-old daughter, Bobby Maria.
'I've got a lot of goals,' Stricker said. 'But my major one is getting back in the winner's circle again and trying to go to the level where I once played.'
Having disposed of one top-notch opponent, Stricker's quest will now continue against fellow American and 23rd-seeded Scott Verplank, who defeated Brent Geiberger over 19 holes in his first match. Should he get past Verplank, Stricker could be facing Justin Leonard in the Sweet 16.
But Stricker's not looking that far ahead.
He's well aware that to get back to where he once was he needs to establish firm footing before taking that giant leap.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

Getty Images

Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

Getty Images

Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.