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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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

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Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”