Steve Stricker: Show Stealer

This was supposed to be about the 2013 triumphant return of the PGA Tour. It was that and the optics of that gorgeous Plantation course at the Kapalua Resort on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

Well, not just that. A terrific field of champions; everybody who won a PGA Tour event last year. Some of the big guns didn’t show due to career management issues: Tiger, Phil, Rory, Luke, Justin. Most are rationing themselves so that they can point to and get ready for the majors. Mostly the European guys — except for Ian Poulter — who are trying to manage their loyalty to two tours, theirs and the U.S. Tour.

But in my mind, Steve Stricker became the biggest story — until play actually begins — with his announcement that at just 46 years old, he’s headed to semi-retirement. 

As the AP’s golf writer, Doug Ferguson, details in his column, “Stricker headed for semi-retirement,” Stricker has had enough. Enough of the relentlessness of the Tour, enough of being at home but thinking about the next tournament, enough of the selfishness his profession requires at the expense of his family. His daughter is showing more than a passing interest in the game, but while he’s working on something in his game, the focus that requires keeps him from being able to help her in the way he wants to.

He’s thinking about playing something like just 10 tournaments. After defending his Hyundai Tournament of Champions win from last year, the next time we’ll see him will be at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson at the end of February. We’ll also see him at the other two U.S.-based WGC events at Doral in Miami and Firestone in Akron. But the fourth in Shanghai is too far to go.

He’ll also play the four majors and the John Deere Classic, his home game, in the Quad Cities (he’s won three straight: 2009, 2010 and 2011).

And he intends to intersperse tune-up tournaments in there somewhere. His plans do not currently include the Players Championship or the Playoffs and Tour Championship. Which, given the significance of those tournaments, is a measure of his commitment to restructure his life.

Without the Hyundai, that’s eight tournaments without the tune-ups, so the math doesn’t quite work and may have to be fine tuned. But the intention and direction is clear.

So, the mastery question that crops up is, can you really just waltz into the biggest golf tournaments on the planet without any tune-up tournaments? There are guys who don’t play the week before a major, but that’s because they played two in a row the weeks before and want to come in rested and excited to be there.

Since Stricker is one of the elite players in the game, the creme de la creme, he might be able to do it. But will his home life allow him to keep his ball striking sharp. As I wrote in, “Jerry Kelly: On Music and the Golf Swing,” the one thing that distinguishes the Tour pros is the way that the club strikes the ball. It is an amorphous collage of mind, body and club moving in synch through time and space. It’s as much an art as it is science (although Sean Foley, Tiger’s coach, might disagree with that).

If it were easy, there would be whole legions of the best players, sucking on piña coladas in the tropics and every now and then popping up to make a withdrawal from the PGA Tour ATM. But it doesn’t work like that.

There are guys who break the mold in terms of what’s required to play at the top level. The most famous example was Bruce Lietzke. He was so notorious for taking long stretches off without touching a club that his caddie once jammed a banana in the head cover of his driver just to see. When Lietzke showed up for the first tournament of the year, the banana was still there.

We had a minister who was a sometimes successful Monday Qualifer on the Champions Tour. He would deliver the sermon on Sunday, catch a plane that afternoon to Monday’s site and play the course Monday morning without ever having played a practice round on it.

So I applaud Stricker for determining what’s really important at this time in his life and setting some goals. And I like his choice of his wife and kids as his new devotion. Because it’s the right decision in so many ways, I hope it works out for all of them.

But I think we’ll all be keeping an eye on his experiment. Can you really play with chronic rust on your game, particularly at that level, and still be successful? It should be very interesting.

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2 Responses to Steve Stricker: Show Stealer

  1. jim hays says:

    Bill…..well done, but the missing piece in your article is his passion to see his kids grow up. If he`s been playing at a high level for the last few years while, in his heart ,wanting to be home, then he played at a less than 100% commitment .Now the “ten” he plays will be with much more intensity and purpose. Steve Stricker is a class act……

    • Bill Rand says:

      Steve Sticker is indeed a class act and a devoted father. I’ll be going to the Accenture Match Play Championship, so I can’t wait to ask him how his plan has worked out by then. I will, of course, let everybody know.