MEDINAH, Ill. – Steve Stricker couldn’t believe it.
With Europeans giddily singing “Ole, ole, ole” as he stood off the 18th green, Stricker watched fellow American Phil Mickelson wrap an arm around him and pull him tight. One American after another walked by to pat him on the back.
“I’m a little stunned,” he said. “I can’t really believe what happened.”
It was a nightmare ending for Stricker. The Ryder Cup came down to his match, the second-to-last on the course. He missed a 6-foot putt for par at the 17th, a miss that allowed Martin Kaymer to win the hole and move 1 up on him.
That meant the Ryder Cup was down to the 18th with Stricker knowing he had to win the hole or the Europeans would take the Ryder Cup home with them again.
“That was probably the most pressure I’ve ever been under,” Stricker said. “It was tough, very tough. I don’t think I will ever experience that kind of pressure again.”
After knocking his approach at the 18th long, 45 feet past the hole, Stricker didn’t come close to holing a birdie try that the Americans had to have. He drifted his putt 8 feet left of the hole. He watched Kaymer hole a 6-footer for par to halve the hole and secure the cup for Europe.
“It was a misread,” said Stricker, who wound up 0-4 for the week. ”We thought it was a great big turn to the right.”
Stricker desperately wanted to play well this week. He grew up a couple hours north of Chicago, in Edgerton, Wis. He went to school at the University of Illinois a couple hours south of Chicago. This week meant a lot to so many people who care about him.
“I’m disappointed I let the other players down,” Stricker said. “I just didn’t get it done.”
Stricker doesn’t want that to be his last Ryder Cup memory, but he’s 45. There’s no guarantee he will get another chance, but he wants one.
“As a golfer, you have to be resilient,” Stricker said. “It’s the nature of the game. I have been to the depths of the game before, where you have to pick yourself up. I’ve been through this before. I’ll be fine.”
Stricker is a two-time PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year. He is also considered one of the best putters in the game, but he saw the Ryder Cup expose the trouble he has had with his short game and putter all year.
“My stats are better than they have ever been from Tee to Green, but I’m not getting the job done on the greens,” he said. “That’s frustrating, because that’s my mainstay. What happened this week, it was nothing new.”
Stricker said he will take some time to decompress. He will heal up in the woods he loves, hunting this fall and winter, and then he will do what he did when his game left him in the past. He’ll get back to work building it up again.