Stricker went for the big money after his big year in 1996. That's not unusual. Lots of players have done it. He was offered a small fortune to change clubs. So he dumped the old standbys that had shot him to No. 4 on the money list and agreed to play the new ones. It doesn't matter what the clubs were - golfers have switched from them and taken a huge bath, just like others have switched to them and emptied out their wallets.
Fred Couples, Mark Brooks, Mark Calcavecchia, Lee Janzen, the late Payne Stewart come immediately to mind as millionaires who wanted to become multi-millionaires. They change clubs and then something doesn't work quite the same way. The difference in hitting a ball 15 feet from the pin or 25 feet is enormous. And it takes two or three years to learn that little trick. Meanwhile, you become just yesterday's news when it comes to all those top-10s. Sometimes you lose touch with the flag trying to hit the new sticks, and awaken to find your old skill is gone forever.
Stricker changed not just once, but twice. In the space of three or four short years, he was hitting the ball so wildly he could have done better using a tennis racket. But that didn't apply in Australia. This year, he put together a mixed bag of his favorites and dropped the club contract. He put together Callaways, Cobras, Pings and Titleists along with a putter by Odyssey, and together they made magic.
The venue was one of the World Golf Championships, the one that the big names seemed to ignore. Even Ernie Els, at No. 2 the highest-ranking player attending, wasn't concerned enough to come in for a practice round or two. Ernie enjoyed Christmas and New Year's until the last possible moment, then jumped on a plane and scurried over to Australia to work in a few practice holes the day the tournament started. That was plenty good enough to beat most of the guys. He got by with smoke and mirrors until the semi-finals, when he lost to Pierre Fulke. Then he had to play the consolation match and he didn't like it.
I don't blame a guy who has enough dough already to want to get on to the next stop. That was Els. Please don't make us sit through the antics of someone who doesn't really care who finishes third and who is fourth. It seems as if the only one interested is television, who would be forced to show a ton of replays, old tournaments and commercials if there were only one match. Showing Frick and Frack up head of the real match helps pass the time for the Big Eye.
That would be fine if you were showing Stricker and Fulke in the consolation match. They would be ecstatic playing for third place. But Els - if he is not going to win, what's the sense in going through the motions? Do YOU care if Ernie finishes third, or if he finishes fourth? I didn't think so. Neither does Els.
These World Golf Championships are a success only when they are played in the United States. Here's a little secret - the big dogs wouldn't have been in Australia no matter what time of year it was. The fact that it was New Year's merely fit nicely into their list of excuses.
Oh, I know the guys who were there put on a good show. The matches were tight, etc. etc. The matches for your club championship are probably tight, too. But there was a definite absence of big names. And it's big names that bring the big interest.
The WCG events played in the U.S. are a success because they draw all the top players. Well, cross Jumbo Ozaki out of that equation. He won't leave Japan, regardless. But everyone else in the world will come. They've shown it over and over in the past.
Of course, an American will probably win. Occasionally a Darren Clarke will jump up and score one for the Auld Sod. But by and large, the top Americans aren't going to budge if they have to cross the borders.
There's a very good reason - they have all the money they could ever want. Mister Finchem has only himself to thank on that one. Last year 15 on the U.S. tour made at least $2 million, and that is prize money alone. You can probably say that 15 made at least $5 million, and it is awfully hard to spend more than $5 mil per annum.
World Championships are nice. But they are not really world championships, because they are either played where the world's top players will not attend, or they will be played where the top players have left their games at home. The World Golf Championship is merely the American championship. Or it is really not a world championship.