What had been the worst-kept secret in golf – Steve Stricker is the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain – became official Wednesday in frozen Milwaukee, ending weeks of speculation not about who would follow Jim Furyk, but when the appointment would be made official.
Almost immediately after his introduction, Stricker got teary-eyed talking about being captain in his home state.
That’s Stricker, who is as real as a Wisconsin winter.
“He is the right guy at the right time,” said Jerry Kelly, a three-time PGA Tour winner and fellow Wisconsin native who has played alongside Stricker for decades.
“It’s perfect timing for people to get to know Steve Stricker. He’s not this gentle, go-about-your-business type of guy. They will see the true fire this guy has. He can corral the young guys and the old guys at the same time.
“There is nothing easygoing about him when it comes to the competition. He is an absolute animal.”
“We want to win this more than ever, and I’m here to help in any way I can.” – Steve Stricker
It’s been nearly five months since the European team won the Ryder Cup in Paris, outplaying the Americans on a golf course at Le Golf National that played to the winners’ strengths. It ended with a brushfire of controversy on the American side, the embers being ceremonially snuffed out when Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed had a man hug on the first tee at Torrey Pines last month.
Stricker was there as one of Jim Furyk’s vice captains, fairly certain his appointment was coming once the smoke cleared. Now it’s his turn and he has already named Furyk as one of his vice captains.
“I’m very passionate about this competition and some people … don’t think I’m very passionate about or fiery about playing the game of golf and what I do for a living. But deep down, I’m very competitive,” Stricker said.
“We want to win this more than ever, and I’m here to help in any way I can.”
There was a time when Stricker, 51, would not have been considered for the captain’s spot because he never won a major championship, once considered a prerequisite for the job. With the advent of the Ryder Cup task force and two decades of getting drummed by the Europeans, the model changed and, Paris aside, so did the American approach.
Stricker is universally liked and respected and that matters. Stricker is the genuine article, a guy who will stand up for what he believes and has a new-rope toughness that will go a long way with the team he captains.
“I’m not afraid to speak up now,” said Stricker, who captained the victorious 2017 U.S. Presidents Cup team. “It seems like the older I’ve gotten, I’ll take it all in and listen to everybody, and if I have to make a tough decision, I will. I’m comfortable with that.
“I realize it kind of rests on the captain’s shoulder, and I’m good with that.”
He has already reached out to Reed to talk about what happened during and following the Ryder Cup last fall, making sure any rough edges had been smoothed over.
Having been a part of five Ryder Cup teams (three as a player) and six Presidents Cup teams, Stricker understands the process, the pressure and the people. Stricker was playing against Martin Kaymer when the German made the Ryder Cup-clinching putt at Medinah in 2012 and was part of the American celebration in 2016 at Hazeltine National as a vice captain.
Stricker has the distinction of having won the PGA Tour’s comeback player of the year in successive years (2006, 2007), an achievement that speaks to the arc of his career and his resilience.
A prolonged slump cost Stricker his tour card in 2004 but he worked his way back, regaining his full status with seven top-10 finishes in 2006, then ending a nearly seven-year victory drought in 2007. He climbed to second in the world ranking in 2009.
“I believe Steve’s career directly mirrors what’s going to happen in the Ryder Cup,” Kelly said. “It’s like a big bell curve and we’ve been on a heavy downside of that curve for a while.
“Steve, in his career, came out of that down side and it has not stopped going up. That can happen with the Ryder Cup.”
That’s Stricker’s intention.
“I learned that we’re on the right track, even though we didn’t win. We got outplayed last year. The consistency was there. Jim Furyk did a wonderful job. The guys just got outplayed by the Europeans,” Stricker said.
“I’ve been looking at some of the stats from last year, and we made a lot of bogeys that led to holes won by the other side, and so it’s just we got outplayed. And when you get outplayed and get beat, it doesn’t look like you’re having a lot of fun. It’s not a lot of fun to lose, especially in the Ryder Cup.
“We’re fine. We’re looking forward. We’re looking ahead.”
Once and future U.S. Ryder Cup captains Davis Love III and Steve Stricker shake hands after finishing the second round of this year’s Sony Open in Hawaii. Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports
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