Wisconsin native Stricker the main man this week

By Associated PressAugust 12, 2010, 12:52 am

2010 PGA Championship

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – No pressure or anything, Steve Stricker. There’s only an entire state hanging on your every shot at the PGA Championship.

Wisconsin’s favorite golfer is generating the kind of frenzy normally reserved for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at Whistling Straits this week. Fans line every hole he plays, asking for his autograph and wishing him well. His mere appearance on the green prompts hearty applause. The governor gave him a shoutout. Some kids are even running around the course in bright green “Stricker’s Soldiers” T-shirts.

“Do I feel extra expectations? Yeah, I do,” Stricker said Wednesday. “Like I do every other week, I want to play well. But I REALLY want to play well here, you know what I mean?”

With snow covering the ground about half the year, Wisconsin is not exactly known as a breeding ground for golfers. Oh, it produces a standout here and there, but they usually leave their home state for warmer climates when it’s time to get serious about the game.

Which only endears Stricker more to his fellow Cheeseheads. The No. 3 golfer in the world still lives full-time in Madison, trading his clubs for blaze-orange camouflage in the fall.

Steve Stricker at 2010 PGA Championship
Steve Stricker returns home to Wisconsin for the 92nd PGA Championship. (Getty Images)
“I know this is a big deal to him,” said Mike Small, who played and roomed with Stricker at Illinois and now coaches the Illini. “I know he’s under maybe some self-imposed pressure, because he wants to win a major and it being in his home state.”

Not to mention that he missed out the last time Wisconsin played host to a major.

Stricker was one of the game’s rising stars in the mid-1990s, finishing fourth on the money list in 1996 and earning runner-up honors at the 1998 PGA Championship. Five years later, though, his career was in shambles. He made the cut just eight times in 2003 and, for the first time since turning pro, failed to record at least one top-10 finish.

The next year wasn’t any better, so much so that when the PGA made its first visit to Whistling Straits, Stricker wasn’t invited.

“It was difficult. My game, though, was not in any situation to be put on display, either,” said Stricker, who watched the tournament from home. “But it was kind of a shot in the arm, too, showing that I needed to get better and needed to put some extra work in.”

Scraping by on past champions status and sponsor exemptions, Stricker earned comeback player of the year honors in 2006 with seven top-10 finishes, including ties for sixth at the U.S. Open and seventh at the PGA. He became the first player to win the award twice – in consecutive years, no less – in ’07 with his first victory (The Barclays) in more than six years. He also was runner-up in the FedEx Cup and finished No. 4 on the money list.

“It was just dedication again. … And I figured I wasn’t really capable of doing anything else and just had to put the work together,” Stricker said. “I started hitting balls and started changing things, because what I was doing wasn’t really working all that well. A lot to do with it was my attitude. I had a poor attitude going. I didn’t have a lot of confidence.

“My mental approach and my physical game had to change, and that’s what I went to work on at the end of the 2005 season, beginning of 2006. And I still continue to work on the same things today.”

Since his comeback, Stricker has emerged as one of the tour’s most consistent players. He was part of the U.S. team that ended Europe’s Ryder Cup winning streak in 2008. He had his best season yet last year, winning three times and finishing in the top 10 eight other times.

He’s already won twice this year and, at No. 4 in the world, has an outside chance of claiming the No. 1 ranking this week.

“I like to think I’m wiser,” the 43-year-old said, when asked to explain his longevity. “I’ve had, obviously, my ups and downs, and I’ve learned a lot through both those periods. But you can’t replace experience. You learn a lot throughout the course of your career. I’ve been able to experience a lot of different things, and you can use those to your advantage as you go along.

“It’s been a good run, and I would like to continue it.”

About the only thing Stricker lacks now is a major.

For all his consistency the rest of the year, Stricker hasn’t done particularly well in the majors. He has a handful of top 10s since 1998, but he hasn’t cracked the top five at a major in more than a decade.

“If I knew the key, hopefully I would have won by now,” Stricker said. “It’s a little more difficult in the final round of a major. Everything’s a little more intense, the pressure’s a little bit greater. You need to handle that.”

And that pressure will climb even higher this week.

Stricker is doing his best to treat the PGA like any other major. But even the drive to the course reminds him this week is something special – “It feels like home. All I see are corn, soybeans and cows.” – and it’s impossible to block out the love from all corners of Wisconsin.

“To play well in front of the home fans and my family and friends would be an unbelievable experience,” Stricker said. “But you can’t try to do it. You’ve just got to go about your business and take each shot, each day as it comes and try not to put that added extra pressure on myself. Hopefully I can do that.”


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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: