Inside the Ropes
By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
For Steve Stricker, the John Deere Classic this week probably will be one of his four majors in a season that’s shaping up as semi-retirement. Not only does he love TPC Deere Run, where he has won three times, but he’s not making the trip to Scotland on the Sunday night charter arranged by tournament officials. That’s because he’s not playing in the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield.
“I think I missed the deadline to send in my entry for the British,” said Strick, who plans to play only 11 times on the PGA Tour this season. “So I won’t be going over there. “When the 46-year-old Stricker announced his abbreviated schedule at the start of the year, he said was tired of all the travel and would play only the majors and the three World Golf Championships that are contested in the United States. From the start, he was wavering on the Open Championship at Muirfield, where he tied for 59th in 2002. Stricker probably doesn’t believe he is missing much of a chance to claim his elusive first major title because a tie for seventh in 2008 at Royal Birkdale and a tie for eighth in 2007 at Carnoustie are his only top-10 finishes in 13 appearances at the oldest championship in the world.
Instead, he’s focusing on the John Deere, which he won in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before tying for fifth last year. “It’s always fun to come here,” Stricker said last year at TPC Deere Run, which is less than a three-hour drive from his home in Madison, Wis. “And I get a lot of support here, and (I’ve) kind of been adopted by the local community here as one of their own. “And obviously I get some friends from home, and then some University of Illinois (his alma mater), people that I’ve gotten to know over the years. They come up, so it’s a truly home game for me this week. So it’s an event that I look forward to, and I’m excited about trying to go out and trying to (win) it again. “The John Deere will be Stricker’s eighth tournament of the season, so if he sticks with his plan to play only 11 events, he has the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the PGA Championship and one other start remaining this season.
Strick has said that he might play in the PGA Tour playoffs if he has a reasonable chance to capture the FedEx Cup, and he ranked 19th in the FedEx Cup point standings last week. Those chances seem slim, because he has an elk hunting trip scheduled for September. “I’m really excited what I’m doing this year,” said Stricker, who has finished in the top 10 four times in seven tournaments, including second twice, to Dustin Johnson in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and to Tiger Woods in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. “I can tell by my demeanor on the golf course. “Golf is not the thing in my life as it once was. That was the reason why I scaled back. So I’m excited to go home. I’m excited to do some different things at home and get some time away again and … ready to play when I come back. “Even though he has continued to work on his game at home, much of Stricker’s time is taken up doing things with his wife, Nikki, and their daughters, Bobby and Isabella. In addition, he has created a charitable foundation with the help of American Family Insurance, which also keeps him busy. Before making this career decision to cut his playing schedule so drastically, he ran it past his sponsors, who were fine with it, an of course, his family.
“What I told Nicki was if I could just make enough money to pay our yearly expenses as a family, I’m fine with that,” said Stricker, who has earned $2,187,146 on the PGA Tour this season, plus endorsement money. “If we don’t have to touch anything I’ve put away, I don’t need to do what I’m doing just to make money. I’d rather be staying home, doing things at home. I wanted to not have it be about me anymore. “What it also might mean is that Stricker, who has won 12 titles on the PGA Tour, will have less of a chance to claim the missing piece to his career, a major title. Stricker was tied for second, one stroke out of the lead, headed to the final round in the U.S. Open at Merion before he hit two balls out of bounds on the second hole and carded a triple-bogey 8 en route to a 6-over-par 76 that left him in a tie for eighth. “It’s not getting any easier as I get older,” said Stricker, who could have unseated Hale Irwin, who won at 45 in 1990 at Medinah, as the oldest U.S. Open champion in history. “Not the start I was looking for. I felt good, felt relaxed. I was excited for the day. Just the nature of the game, I guess. It puts you in your place rather quickly at times. I’m not over this yet, but it won’t take me long. “Probably about as long as it took him to get home.