You Gotta Love This Guy

Steve Stricker has the 54-hole lead at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin (Columbus), Ohio. Not only is he one of the great stories on the PGA Tour, he’s also one of the really good guys.

With his wife Nickie on the bag, he got through Q-School in 1993. Hard to believe that it was that long ago. The two of them were the cute couple of the tour and the chemistry worked well: he had a breakout year in 1996 with two wins and found himself number 4 on the money list. After his Nationwide Tour apprenticeship, he’d done it! Welcome to the Tour kid.  

But with Nickie leaving the bag in 1998 to start a family and by 2005, having failed to get through Q-School to keep his card, he found himself hitting balls out of a trailer in the December snow on a Madison, Wisconsin, golf course.

I remember hearing the story about Jerry Kelly, you and him hitting balls out of a three sided trailer. Do you still do that?

Uh huh, wintertime, yeah.

So that wasn’t just a temporary thing because

No, it’s a yearly thing.

 Jerry joined you?

Jerry comes in there every once in a while.

Are there more young golfers in Wisconsin doing that now or are you still the only one?

No, there’s quite a few people that come in there now and hit balls. A lot of kids, they do a lot of lessons now in the wintertime up in Wisconsin, believe it or not, right out of the trailers. So it’s becoming a little bit more and more popular.

This from a true star on the PGA Tour, currently the No. 8 player in the world. No wintering in Palm Springs or Florida for him. And because of his dedication and example, people now hit balls in the winter in Wisconsin. Who’d have thought?

He found his swing and won $1.8 million in 2006 and he did it in just 17 tournaments. His struggles were well documented and his performance won him the Comeback Player of the Year Award. When he ended up number 4 in the World Golf Rankings the following year after winning $4.7 million, he was voted Comeback Player again.

I don’t know how it happened, to tell you the truth. To win it once was nice and special, and I think the second time was a little bit of a joke. I’m not 100 percent sure. But I don’t know if somebody was campaigning for me the second time around or what.

I guess what I’ve always said is that shows you how far down in a hole I was to win it twice. (Laughter.)

A couple years ago after you regained your touch, I remember at the British Open people were all asking about how did you do it and why and you got a little leery of the question. Do you ever look back and say, how did I get back there? In other words, why was I there and do you even think of five, six, seven years ago?

…I understand why I was there. You know, my commitment to the game, my swing wasn’t good. I understand why I was there.

To get to where I am today and all the things that have happened since like the ’05 season, I can’t believe where I am today, to tell you the truth. And that’s a good thing, because I keep striving to do bigger and better things. I keep working at it. I don’t take that for granted anymore. I think I did at times early in my career.

Now today I’ve seen all the ups and downs that can be had out here, and I appreciate where I’m at right now, and that’s why I think I work harder at it and stay patient and do the things I’ve been doing.

…I continually try to do little things every week that I’m home, really. I continue to work on it when I’m not out here. I did some things last week, and those things have really paid off. I’m hitting the ball really solid. It’s starting straighter on my line. I’m not curving it as much.

And I switched equipment about maybe five or six tournaments ago. I switched shafts and the ball, and that combination has been really good for me. I’m hitting it further. Just the things I am doing with the ball are better.

The things I’ve been working on have been good.

But no less worthy and just 3 strokes back for today’s final round sits Jonathan Byrd. He is a very tidy player and, you will recall, the guy who won last year’s Las Vegas playoff with a shot-in-the-dark (literally) hole in one. He’s obviously playing well now too and he’ll be paired with Stricker.

A shot behind him is World No. 7, Matt Kuchar, so no surprise that he’s in the mix.

But tied and paired with Kuchar today, Brandt Jobe is. In 2005, this guy made $2.1 million. But at the end of 2006, a freak accident at home cost him his 2007 and 2008 seasons. He severed the tip of his left index finger and the base of his left thumb after a broom handle broke while sweeping his garage. In 2009, playing on a major medical exemption, he failed to make enough to keep his card and could only manage a T64 at Q-School. That put him back on the Nationwide Tour for 2010 where he only made 12 of 23 cuts, but it did tune him up for another crack at Q-School where he finished T6 and won his card back for this year. And, so far, he appears to be on track to easily keep his card for next year. Good story.

These four guys should make for some compelling viewing this afternoon. But if Stricker goes backwards, another shot back lurk Mark Wilson, Shaun Micheel and Rory McIlroy. 

Oh, boy!

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