Steve Stricker: The Amazing Part-timer

The saga of Steve Stricker’s efforts to be a part-time player on the PGA Tour continues at this week’s John Deere Classic, an event he has won three consecutive years (2009-2011). And the year after that run, he finished T5. In other words, he likes the TPC Deere Run. Could be that the mid-western ethics of the Quad Cities (the course is actually in the suburb of Silvas, Illinois), lines up with what he finds so captivating about his beloved Wisconsin.

His first stab at this part-time job was in 2013 when he cut back to just 13 tournaments and had a great year with 8 top 10s that netted him $4.4 million. And he didn’t miss a cut. Actually, he’s only missed one cut since the three he missed in 2009. When you are as stable as that, you’re going to make a little money.

2014 hasn’t been as strong a year so far; he’s played in only 8 events and had only one top 10, a T6 at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.

So befitting of that impressive run, he didn’t arrive at the course until just before his pro-am start in the afternoon: 

“I got here about an hour before my Pro‑Am tee time.  I wish I had given myself a little more time.”

But his pro-am team won anyway. He took a minute to explain that he wasn’t being cavalier about it, he was helping out Zach Johnson’s pro-am…so he needed a day to himself:

“Yeah, I feel comfortable here, and really all I wanted to do was come in here to get a round under my belt to see the conditions and how the greens were reacting.  My speed on my putts today was great.  The course is in great shape, so there are really no tricks.  It’s the same as it has been every year, and I needed a break yesterday.  I needed to kind of — I played in Zach’s deal on Monday, so I needed the day off to do nothing, so that’s pretty much what I did yesterday.”

The big question mark in the last couple of week’s was whether Stricker was going to play in the British Open. It’s made immeasurably easier by the fact that the Deere has been arranging a charter flight right after the tournament non-stop to the Open. But even that wasn’t enough to sway him; he decided not to play and politely (doesn’t he always) explained why:

“It was a tough decision.  Never felt — I kept telling myself I should go, but deep down I was thinking I kind of wanted to do what I did last year and just stay home.  I think we’re going to do something as a family again next week.  You know, those days are numbered.  It seems during the summertime, my daughter starts tennis for school the first week in August already, so this is our last couple weeks of summer before she gets into her school routine already.  For me, anyways.  After I’m going to play Bridgestone and the PGA, and when I’m back from that, she starts school tennis, so it’s kind of the last couple weeks of summer break as a family. ”

“So I would love to play the tournament.  It’s not that I dislike the tournament or the style of golf or the course or anything like that, it’s just getting there.  I’m not a big fan of the travel and getting over there, so that’s kind of why I decided to stay.”

One of the hallmarks of good players is that they are almost always optimistic and that’s pretty much the prism he’s looking through as he reviews his year:

“I’m very encouraged the way I’ve played.  The results haven’t been great, but the way I’m playing at home and the way I played today, I haven’t hit it really any better.  My ball flight is better.  I’m hitting it straighter.  So when I look at how I play at home and when I play like a round today, I’m very encouraged.”

“It hasn’t resulted into some good tournament rounds so far this year, a few, but I think it’s just I’m not playing as much.  I got off to a slow start this year and I had a lot on my plate at home with my brother [who required a liver transplant] and that kind of detracted from my focus and my attention to my golf game, and rightfully so.”

“So I think there’s been some things this year that have gotten in the way, and I’m starting to play a little bit more.  I’m playing a little bit better.  So hopefully put it all together here this week.”

As a consequence, his stats are slipping, but he’s not worried about that either. He doesn’t think he’s slipping:

“I don’t.  My body tells me that, but I still feel like I can compete and win out here.  My stats are not good, but I look at some of the tournaments that I played, and I played eight tournaments.  In a couple of them you couldn’t even hit them on the greens.  I know I hit less than 50% of the greens at the U.S. Open, and I know I hit probably about 50% at Doral, which was, I thought, very hard this year.  So, yeah, then they don’t take stats at the Match Play, so there are three tournaments right there out of my eight.”

“So I really don’t pay attention to that, just because I’m not playing a lot, but I do know there is some cause for concern.  I’ve been messing around with my irons a lot this year, too, which I’ve been trying to find a newer set, different shafts, because the ones I’m playing are pretty strong and stiff, so I’ve been messing around with that a lot which hasn’t helped my iron play that much either.  So there have been some things.  I’m not worried about it. ”

“That is the nice thing about what I’m doing.  I’m just trying to have fun with it still, but still take it very seriously and want to compete and try to win again.”

For all you club fitters and tinkerers out there, here’s the circuitous route he took to get back to where he was. I found this interesting because I was watching David Feherty’s interview with Tom Weiskoph where Weiskoph was talking about how back in the day, it took him a year and a half to get all of his clubs tuned up and in synch. And he went on to say that these days, with all of the current technology, you can put together a set of clubs in an hour. Probably not strictly true, but his point remains the same:

“I have [tinkered] a lot this year, but I’m back to my Gamer shafts with a brand‑new head, but it’s an older head that I’ve been playing.  But it’s brand‑new grooves, if that makes sense.  It’s the same head that I’ve been playing but new and the exact same shafts, because we took my old shafts out and put them in this new head.  So I’m still trying to tinker around with that.  I played with a whole new set last week.  I actually had new shafts last week.  I tried some (Indiscernible) shafts last week, and they were pretty good, but not really what I was looking for.  So I went back to everything old except for new heads.”

Even then, it gets a little confusing:

“It is, because I got my old — new head, but it’s old.  It’s confusing to me, too.  And I got my old shaft in there, which is stiff, but I got that little bit of draw back.  I hit it actually pretty good.  Last week with the X100s, but the short irons didn’t feel the greatest to me, so I kind of chickened out and didn’t want to play them again this weekend, so I went back to everything old.”

And then there was this tongue-in-cheek final thought on his playing that is another mirror into his optimism:

“Yeah, I told Finchem, my goal is to finish 125 [in FedExCup points], go to the first playoff event, win it.  Not play the next two, and then go to the TOUR Championship, win that, and then take the $10 million home from playing 14 events, and he just shook his head (laughing).  So my plan so far is there.  It’s there, yeah.”

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