DUBLIN, OHIO | They are bosom buddies. In today’s world, that means they exchange text messages and the mobile phone numbers are on speed dial. Fast, efficient.
That’s Steve Stricker’s golf game, too. After a long, sad downturn in his career, Stricker took it upon himself to sort out his game. He relied on himself – nobody else – to find out what was wrong and find a way to fix it. It didn’t take as long as people might think.
Now his pal, Tiger Woods, is looking for solutions. Woods said at the Memorial Tournament that he’ll do without a swing guru now that Hank Haney no longer is on the Team Tiger roster. Woods will use the available video technology to study his swing and, like Stricker, find a way to dig it out.
Stricker believes that’s the right approach for Woods.
“He knows a ton about the game,” Stricker said. “I don’t think there’s a teacher out there that can possibly give the information that Tiger already has.”
Maybe so but there is a guy out there who could provide some pretty solid counsel if asked by Woods.
In 2010, Stricker is one of a handful of the world’s best golfers, right there behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the world rankings. Stricker’s rise is an inspiring story of determination and perseverance.
It wasn’t long ago that Stricker was nowhere, career-wise. He had flaws. He needed solutions. He started a personal crusade in search of answers. He did it like he does most things. Quietly and alone, away from the maddening crowds, in Wisconsin.
“That’s kind of what I did about six years ago,” Stricker said. “I kind of went back and determined to start doing it on my own.
“I think Tiger’s at that point where he needs to take ownership of what he’s doing with his swing. He’s very knowledgeable on his own swing. Once he gets it straight in his mind and gets the feelings correct, he’ll be better than ever.”
At the Memorial Tournament, Stricker’s swing, like his game, was a picture of proficiency. Playing the first two rounds alongside Woods and Jason Bohn, Stricker hit 12 of 14 fairways in the first round and all 14 in the second round. The contrast to Woods’ driving was staggering: 7 of 14 fairways, then 8 of 14 fairways.
If Woods needs another set of eyes or advice in the matter of the swing, specifically driving, who better to text than Stricker?
“I appreciate that,” said Stricker, in his typical modest manner. “But I also know he’s starting to do a little video on his own. He’s going to actually use his own set of eyes. I think that’s a good thing.”
If it is, we could soon be seeing the results. It didn’t take Stricker long to sort out his problems.
“In golf terms, it was fairly quick, to tell you the truth,” Stricker said. “I went to work at the end of the ’05 season and started seeing results at the beginning of the ’06 season. From that point on, it was just the process of trying to get my confidence back and that process always takes a little longer.
“I started seeing results and started feeling good about the things I was doing. I think he’ll do the same.”
For now, Stricker said, he believes Woods has “a little ways to go.”
“I’ve seen him play some unbelievable golf – we all have,” Stricker said. “His ability to score is still very, very, very, very good, uncanny-like. But he’s got some work to do. And he would be the first to admit that, I think. I saw more improvement. He’s starting to hit shots like he wants to.
“He’s not driving it very well yet but that will come, too.”
What’s the best thing Woods will get if he ever does approach Stricker and say, “Hey, Dude, what’s up with my swing?”
An honest, no-punches-pulled response. How many others would say that Woods isn’t driving it very well or that he has a ways to go? Few have ever dared to challenge Woods so publicly. That’s what you get from Stricker, a straight shooter on and off the golf course. No lip service necessary.
“I think the more he gets to play, the more he’ll work at it at home and out here, and he’ll start seeing results,” Stricker said. “We all know what he can do when his confidence level is high.”
There’s the rub. How the mind reacts in golf is an entirely different issue, one that might be the biggest obstacle of all for Woods. Golf is not a game played easily or well with the brain engaged in other matters.
“Life is moving forward,” Woods said. “The last six months have been pretty tough. I’m now starting to get into golf and starting to play golf again, which is something I haven’t done in a long time.”
It can’t possibly hurt to play it alongside Stricker, a man in control of his emotions and his game. And if Woods ever decides to seek out Stricker for advice, he knows where to find him. In the fairway.