Stricker playing hometown favorite at Whistling Straits

By Randall MellAugust 12, 2015, 10:25 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Whistling Straits doesn’t look like it belongs in Wisconsin.

You drive through the front gate, and you think you’ve been transported to the rugged coast off the Forth of Clyde in Scotland or something.

All those cornfields just outside the gate, all those pretty little farmhouses with their rustic red barns and silos, they seem so far away.

But it sure sounds like Wisconsin around here.

You hear that whenever Steve Stricker steps to a tee box.

This is his home, his sweet motherland, and he’s the beloved favorite son this week. All the good folks from small towns like Ladysmith, Lodi, Peshtigo and Sturgeon Bay, places so much like where Stricker grew up in Edgerton, and from the larger cities like Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay, they’re rooting hard for Stricker around here.

There’s a lot of love being poured on the Wisconsin boy already this week. When he reached the last hole in his practice round Wednesday, he was showered with howls of delight.

Stricker’s an emotional man, he will give you that, and he is sure to be dealing with a lot of feelings when he steps to the first tee box at 1:20 p.m. ET on Thursday. His wife, Nicki, is back on his bag as caddie this week. It all promises to get even more emotional by week’s end, whether that’s in a dreamy finish hoisting a trophy, or a more heavy-hearted finish, missing a cut on Friday. It’s all heightened for Stricker knowing he could be playing his final major championship.

Yes, his last major. He said he’s resigned to the possibility.

“I probably won’t play another major,” Stricker said Wednesday in the shadow of the Whistling Straits clubhouse. “Well, maybe I’ll try to qualify for the U.S. Open when it’s at Erin Hills [in Wisconsin in 2017]. Hopefully, that will happen, but not too many majors do you get to play in your home state.”


PGA Championship: Full-field tee times


Stricker, 48, is a 12-time PGA Tour winner who would relish electrifying all these hometown fans with a run at winning his first major. Yes, he has fantasized about winning here. He shared that dream with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this week.

“Yeah, that would be pretty special,” Stricker said. “It’s run through my mind a few times how cool of a thing that would be. There’s a long ways to go, and I’m going to have to pull some tricks out of my hat to do that, but you never know. That’s why we play this game and sports in general. I feel like I can play well.”

Stricker made his best run at winning a major in the PGA Championship. He took a share of the lead into the final round at Sahalee in 1998, ultimately finishing second to Vijay Singh, two shots back. He equaled the lowest round ever shot in a major, opening the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club with a 63 four years ago. He has finished T-7 in two of the last three PGA Championships. That’s how he got into this week’s event. He qualified off his T-7 finish at Valhalla last year.

Giant galleries are expected at Whistling Straits, and that means giant support for Stricker.

While home games are usually an advantage in sports, that’s not necessarily the case in golf.

There’s typically additional pressure on the hometown guy, who has more distractions to deal with than he does on the road. There are family and friends wanting more of his time. There is more media. There are more strangers wanting more attention, more autographs.

GolfChannel.com asked Stricker if a home game is really an advantage in golf.

“It can go either way,” Stricker said. “What I’ve experienced in the past, when we’ve played in the Greater Milwaukee Open, you get on a roll, and you can feed off that momentum. If you don’t, you kind of press too hard. David Hearn just went through it in Canada a couple weeks ago, trying to win up there. He said it’s great fun, but it’s tough. It’s the weight of everyone on your shoulders, and you want to play well for everybody else, and there are all the extra demands. Yeah, it can be tough, but it’s also fun.”

Stricker regularly plays as a favorite at the John Deere Classic, where he has thrived in the role. He won that event three consecutive years (2009-11). As a Wisconsin guy who went to school at the University of Illinois, he’s a hometown guy on two levels in the Quad Cities event.

One of his generation’s best putters, Stricker’s chances this week might just come down to his flat stick.

Coming off back surgery last December, Stricker’s semi-retired status translated into even fewer events this year. He has made just eight starts this season, with a T-27 finish at Colonial his best finish. He has slid to No. 138 in the world rankings. His putting hasn’t been good. In fact, it’s never been worse. He’s 164th in strokes gained putting, his worst ranking in his career. It prompted him to take extreme measures this week. He has benched the Odyssey White Hot putter that he has used for almost 15 years for a new Scotty Cameron GoLo.

“I’ve been putting horrible,” Stricker said. “I look down, and it’s something different now. See if that helps.”

Stricker likes the rest of his game. If he drops a few putts early, he could put a real jolt into Whistling Straits.

“I’m hitting it nicely,” Stricker said. “If I can continue to do that and gain a little confidence on the greens, I’ll be fine. It will be interesting to see tomorrow. I’m excited to play. I’m excited to get out there and test it out.”

All those Wisconsin fans are excited to help him make that dream finish come true.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”