SILVIS, Ill. – The Quad Cities is in the grips of Stricker-mania.
His presence looms large over the John Deere Classic with billboards around the metropolitan area promoting Steve Stricker’s quest to win the “Stricker Slam.”
His arrival here was greeted with almost as much fanfare as the year’s newest line of tractors.
Tournament officials gave away Steve Stricker bobbleheads during Tuesday’s practice rounds. They also gave them away at a Quad Cities River Bandits minor-league baseball game. Stricker saw them all over the place playing the pro-am Wednesday.
“I’ve signed quite a few already,” Stricker said.
As a University of Illinois graduate who grew up in Wisconsin, Stricker (45) is practically an adopted son here. A lot of folks will turn out at TPC Deere Run this week to root for him as he seeks to join Young Tom Morris, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods as the only players to win the same PGA Tour event four years in a row.
Even Woods is taking notice of all the fuss.
Stricker was paired with Woods for two days at the Greenbrier Classic last week.
“I talked to him about it,” Stricker said. “In his own little way – I think we all know what his way is – he told me to get it done. He had some really nice things to say, but he also threw a jab at me.”
Woods turned teasingly to Stricker in the middle of their conversation.
“You know, only one of us has won four tournaments in a row,” Woods cracked.
At the John Deere Classic, Stricker gains a more limited appreciation for all the crazy attention Woods endures.
“There’s a lot of focus and attention on me, and I’m not real comfortable with that position,” Stricker said. “I played with Tiger last week, and, I mean, that’s a different fish bowl. That’s a big fish bowl.”
Stricker won the John Deere Classic in spectacular Woods-like fashion last year.
With a sensational 6-iron over a water hazard from an awkward stance in a bunker at the 72nd hole, Stricker set up a 25-foot birdie putt to beat rookie Kyle Stanley by a shot. Stricker made the putt to overcome his own stumble earlier in the round with a birdie-birdie finish.
Stanley was in the scoring trailer when he heard the roar from Stricker’s birdie at the 18th.
“It was a pretty incredible shot,” Stanley said. “You’ve got to hand it to him. Not only for the bunker shot, but making the putt at 17 and 18.”
Stricker is 68 under par in his last three victories at TPC Deere Run.
His scoring average is 65.33.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Jimmy Johnson, Stricker’s caddie.
Nearly everything about this place agrees with Stricker, including the giant statue of a 12-point buck in front of the TPC Deere Run clubhouse.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Stricker said. “I love to deer hunt, and the first thing I see when I walk in from the parking lot every day is this big, huge deer out front in the clubhouse. I kind of chuckled at it this morning. If a tournament was meant for me to win, it would be something like this, right here in the Midwest, with John Deere people, with those Midwestern values, down-home people, same here in the Quad Cities area.”
Stricker stood with John Deere CEO Sam Allen at the 18th green at the end of Wednesday’s practice round admiring the Gator utility vehicle parked in the middle of the pond there. The winner will take it home along with an $828,000 first-place check. Stricker also owns a high-end John Deere tractor for use on his Wisconsin properties.
“It’s like driving a Cadillac,” Stricker said.
John Deere Classic officials have really embraced Stricker as their champion.
“I think in some respects he helped redefine our event,” said Clair Peterson, the tournament director. “For so many years, we were kind of home to the first-time winner. With Steve winning, we became home to a world champion player. When he won last year, he was the highest ranked American in the world. I think people think of us differently now.”
Peterson said Stricker is a perfect fit for the John Deere brand.
“Steve is a Midwestern guy, down to earth, hard working, unassuming,” Peterson said. “We like to feel we have the same values.”