DUBLIN, Ohio – Steve Stricker was done. He knew it. His career in team competitions had come to this unceremonious completion, leaving Medinah Country Club teary-eyed and winless, his name on the short list of those receiving the most blame for the United States’ final-day collapse at the Ryder Cup.
At 45, he was already starting to look ahead. He wanted to spend more time with his family back home in Wisconsin, which meant competing in fewer tournaments, which meant it would be even tougher to play his way onto a U.S. team. Not impossible, but tougher.
You could almost hear the resignation in his voice. Not long after Stricker lost the deciding singles match to Martin Kaymer, cementing a 0-4-0 record for the week, he was asked about the prospect of competing on another team in the future.
“We'll see,” he said wistfully, his words trailing off. “It's too early to tell right now.”
Fast forward one year and you’ll find Stricker wearing red, white and blue once again, this time anchored by an optimistic smile on the eve of competing for the U.S. team once again here at the Presidents Cup.
As it turns out, he wasn’t done after all.
Playing a limited schedule – “semi-retirement,” he called it – Stricker competed in just 13 events, but posted eight top-10s, including four runner-up finishes. Some players need to compete often in order to get into a rhythm; Stricker, it seems, fares better when he’s rested. The very schedule he believed would preclude him from making the team instead elevated him up the points list and onto the roster.
If the feel-good story of this year’s event is to remain a feel-good story on Sunday evening, though, Stricker will need to play better than he did last year. He might never be able to avenge that performance, but he can use it as motivation this week.
“I'm always going to look back at Medinah and think about what happened there that last day and that we didn't get it done,” he explains. “In particular, me. Not making it, not earning a point that whole week. Yeah, it's a sour note, but in this game you have a lot of sour notes and you've got to move forward otherwise you bog yourself down and you never improve.”
His captain understands every word of that.
“Well, we spoke Sunday night at the Ryder Cup,” says Fred Couples, who served as an assistant on that team. “I've texted Steve 20 times a month and tell him all kind of stuff – how great he's doing, how great he's playing. He's one of my all-time favorites.
“To be honest with you, when he set his schedule, he had a long road to hoe to get here, but he's played such phenomenal golf that he made the team, deserves to be on the team and is actually maybe more excited than anyone but [rookie] Jordan [Spieth]. And that's a good thing.”
There is a palpable yet intangible difference between the two biennial international team competitions. While there is no perfect way to explain how the Ryder Cup contrasts from the Presidents Cup, this should help: One year after the so-called Massacre at Medinah, it still weighs heavily on the minds of U.S. players.
It never happens the other way around – and not just because the team wins the Presidents Cup every year.
Memories of last year’s loss still linger, but this week will give players like Stricker – one of nine to return from that team – an opportunity to leave a more positive lasting impression.
“Yeah, the Ryder Cup last year left a sour taste in all our mouths, I think. Just the way that played out, the way it ended, none of us were very happy about it,” he says. “I think because of my reduced schedule, playing less, I didn't really think I was going to have enough tournaments under my belt to qualify for the team. So I'm a little surprised being here, but I'm happy I'm here.”
Steve Stricker isn’t done. He knows it. His career in team competitions won’t come to completion at Muirfield Village this week.
At least that’s the way he’s looking at it.
Unlike last year, there is no resignation in his voice.
“I would still like to think I've got a shot at making the Ryder Cup next year, especially the way I'm playing, and if I can continue to play the way I've been playing. I would like to be a part of that again,” he explains. “It would be nice to get one more crack at that.”