Stricker Takes The Road Less Scheduled

Steve Stricker and his wife, Nicki, were in the car just over a week ago, buzzing down the highway from their home in Madison, Wis., to Chicago to spend a day at the Big Ten basketball tournament. Stricker attended Illinois and, as a Wisconsin native, is a lifelong fan of the Badgers. The PGA Tour was still in Florida, where the Strickers had dropped in a week earlier at Doral for a working spring break, staying long enough to give Tiger Woods a putting lesson, finish second in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and freshen their suntans. Since announcing at the start of this year that he will play a part-time schedule – that means 11 events – Stricker looks and sounds like the happiest man in golf. In three starts this year, he has finished second twice and tied for fifth. Not bad for a part-time gig. Even Stricker is a little surprised by how good the good life has been so far. “For sure,” Stricker said on the way to Chicago. “I didn’t know exactly what to expect with my decision.” Stricker will tee it up this week in the Shell Houston Open in what is his version of a limited arenas-only concert tour. He’s playing the big events — the majors, the WGCs — and hand-picking others like the John Deere Classic that are special to him. He’s in Houston because The Masters is two weeks away and the one thing his uncommon career lacks is a major championship trophy. Now 46, Stricker is in his 20th season on the PGA Tour and, arguably, the prime of his career. Famously lost in golf’s wilderness for a three-year span that began a decade ago, Stricker has won eight times since the start of 2009 and he’s ranked eighth in the world. Conventional wisdom suggests he should be cashing in. Instead, Stricker is closer to cashing out. “My decision was probably 75 percent about my family and 25 percent about not wanting to be out there on the road grinding away,” he said. “I really enjoy my two kids and I like being a part of their lives. “I like taking them to school and picking them up. I like being involved like that.” Professional golf is a selfish pursuit. The game, the job, is consuming. Days are built around practice and playing. Moods are affected by scores. It’s a seemingly endless string of early mornings and late dinners. Expectations are relentless. For Stricker, whose personality and way with people is even better than his putting stroke, regaining what he lost when his career flat-lined extracted a personal price. With nearly $37 million in career earnings, the unprecedented feat of winning consecutive Comeback Player of the Year honors and 12 career victories, the heavy lifting has been done. Now it’s time to stop and smell the popcorn at a basketball tournament or the wood smoke from a Wisconsin fireplace. “My oldest daughter (Bobbi Maria, 14) has expressed an interest in golf and we’ve gone to hit balls a couple of times,” Stricker said. “I hope in the summer to spend some really good time with her and get her going with her game. “It’s always been about what I was doing. Just being around is great. My youngest one (Nicole, 6) is better with me around. Before, it was always, ‘Where’s mom? Where’s mom? Where’s mom?’ Now, she actually comes looking for me at times.” This limited schedule should not be mistaken for Stricker’s farewell tour. Forget the rocking chairs. There’s no fading to black. Stricker still loves to play against the best in the world and he really loves being able to pick his spots without feeling he’s letting something go to waste. Typically when he’s home for a few weeks, Stricker doesn’t do much practicing until a few days before it’s time to head off to his next event. He might hit a few putts in his basement but that’s about it. A few days after Doral and two weeks before his next tournament, Stricker went to the practice facility his father-inlaw, Dennis Tiziani, created that lets him work on his game through the long, cold Wisconsin winters. It’s a heated hitting area that allowed Stricker to spend two hours in a short-sleeve shirt, hitting balls into the 35-degree outdoors, working on a couple of things he wanted to smooth out after Doral. “I actually enjoy coming out with a little rust on my game,” Stricker said. “I also enjoy being fresh mentally. “I’m excited to be [at tournaments]. Bad shots don’t seem to bother me as much. I feel I’ve taken some of the pressure off. I’m not worried about the FedEx Cup or what’s going to happen at the end of the year. I’m just going out trying to play well, have fun and try to win. “It’s shown in my attitude. I’ve been really happy every time I’ve played. We all know that if your frame of mind is good, it only helps you play better.” Even the extra time Stricker now spends at home hasn’t been a problem. Asked if Nicki has had to push him out of the house yet, Stricker laughed. “Not yet,” he said, driving down the road he chose.


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