Steve Stricker fights for victory and his place in the game

By Randall MellSeptember 8, 2009, 3:00 am
DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. – Sometimes golf isn’t really about grip, stance and club positions.

Sometimes, it’s about the fight inside you.

When Steve Stricker makes the long drive through Northern Wisconsin to one of his favorite hunting grounds in the Upper Peninsula, the conversations with his coach and father-in-law can veer wonderfully into philosophical reaches like that.

Dennis Tiziani sees terrific qualities in his son-in-law.

Tiziani sees a gentle soul, a doting father and husband who isn’t afraid to cry talking about things that matter most to him.

Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker reacts to his second career playoff victory. (Getty Images)
He also sees what others don’t.

He sees a terrific fighting spirit.

He saw it again Monday with Stricker knocking Tiger Woods off his perch atop the FedEx Cup playoff standings with his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.

Tiziani will tell you that Stricker is atop the playoff points list today because in taking so many punches in his career he has learned how to throw them.

They’ve talked about that in their long drives away from their homes in Madison, Wis., to their favorite hunting haunts.

“You have to get in a fight and take some hard punches to know what the fight is all about,” Tiziani said. “To learn how to win a fight, you have to get in them. You have to know how to take a punch and how to give one. Steve’s learned that. He’s learned to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Stricker, 42, had those hard times four, five and six years ago, when he couldn’t keep his PGA Tour card. Though he rebuilt his game and twice won PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year honors, he still needed work honing his fighting skills.

Earlier this year, Stricker blew chances to win the Bob Hope Classic in January and the Northern Trust Open in February. Tour brethren liked him, but there were whispers that he was soft.

Stricker proved something coming back to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in a playoff in May and the John Deere Classic in July.

With his strong finish Monday at TPC Boston, with birdies at the 71st and 72nd holes to win the Deutsche Bank Championship, Stricker showed just how skillfully he’s learned to punch under pressure.

“It’s just a process with me,” Stricker said. “I need those steps, those ladders to build on. That’s what I felt like it’s been for me this year with the confidence and being in contention a lot.”

Tiziani, the retired University of Wisconsin coach who owns Cherokee Country Club in Madison, says Stricker’s rise is in great measure due to his taking charge of his own swing. On yet another hunting trip, Tiziani told his son-in-law that he needed to own his swing.

“Teachers and coaches are overrated,” Tiziani said in a telephone conversation Monday night from his club, where he watched Stricker win on TV. “Players are good because they want to be good. We had that conversation, too. You become a better player when you become your own teacher. I work with Steve, I coach him, but I’ve become more a set of eyes for him.”

The story’s been told about how Stricker fought his way back from his slump hitting countless balls from a heated trailer into the snow during the dead of winter at Cherokee. Tiziani said Stricker did most of that work on his own, spending countless hours hitting shots in front of a mirror, so he could check his club positions himself.

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Player: Steve Stricker
  • Event: Deutsche Bank Championship
“You could see Steve doing that out there today, looking back at his hands to check his position,” Tiziani said. “It’s become a part of his practice routine.”

Stricker has been renowned for his wedge game and his putting stroke for a long time, but he elevated his game to a new level in that trailer. He did it building a new swing with his driver. Tiziani said Stricker’s arms and club were “getting stuck” behind his body. He changed that with work in the mirror. Stricker shortened his swing, making it more compact.

“The driver’s the biggest part of this for him now, no question about it,” said fellow PGA Tour pro Jerry Kelly, who also makes his home in Madison and was there to hug Stricker at the 18th green Monday. “Even when Steve was down in the doldrums, he still led the Tour in putting. Once [the driving] came, he was prepared to do this. It probably better prepared him because his scrambling was incredible.

“It was great to see him work through it himself. He put so much time into it. He worked so hard.”

Seeing Stricker consistently playing from fairways is a daunting image, Kelly said, because it sets his friend up as one of the game’s great scorers. Stricker is No. 1 on the PGA Tour in putting average. He’s No. 2 to Woods in scoring average.

“When you get Steve inside 100 yards, there is nobody better,” Kelly said.

With his driver more dependable, Stricker is better built to win the game’s biggest events.

“Right now, there’s only one player in the world better than Steve,” Tiziani said. “Steve hasn’t won a major championship, but I’ll tell you, over the next three, four or five years, he’s going to become a factor. You can’t hit in the fairway like he’s doing now, and putt the way he does, and not know that your time is coming.”

Stricker’s comfort level alongside Woods may factor in that, also. Stricker has become friends with Woods, and he has learned to play well in their pairings together. In fact, Stricker was cumulatively 10 shots better the first three times they played together in this year's playoff events. He's posted a better score than Woods in three of their four pairings together.

“Slowly, I’ve been gaining confidence under the gun,” Stricker said.

That’s the fighter in him talking.
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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?

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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.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.