HONOLULU, HAWAII | Steve Stricker is hearing voices.
He has been for a while.
In one ear, he’s hearing friends and colleagues tell him it’s time to concentrate fully on the PGA Tour Champions. He’ll turn 52 in February and there’s guaranteed money playing against his peers, not to mention no cuts and free carts.
In the other ear, he’s being urged to play the PGA Tour as long as he can. Pick his spots. Play where it fits his game. Follow the path of Davis Love III and Vijay Singh.
The reality, for Stricker anyway, is there are no wrong answers.
“I talked to Tom Kite at the Ryder Cup this last year about my position a little bit. Everybody has been different. He gave me the idea like I should be on the Champions tour. Take advantage of this opportunity. You have a short window, all this kind of stuff. I’m like, yeah, you know what? You’re right,” Stricker said.
“Then you talk to somebody else and they say, the number of years are winding down for you on the regular tour. Stay out there as long as you can. Enjoy the tournaments. I’m like, you know, you’re right.
“I don’t know which way to go still. I think bottom line is I’m just doing what I feel like doing.”
That’s why Stricker showed up at the Sony Open in Hawaii, taking advantage of his one-year Tour exemption by virtue of his place among the top 25 career money winners. It doesn’t hurt that the Champions tour starts its 2019 season this week a couple of islands over but Stricker’s intention is to play with the young guys as much as he can this year.
“I’m optimistic and that’s why I’m out here.” – Steve Stricker
It was just a few years ago that Stricker decided to cut back on his playing schedule, opting to spend more time with his family even as he hung around the top 20 in the world ranking.
The tug to play has remained and Stricker has managed to deftly walk the line, not playing full time and not surrendering the belief that he can still win on the PGA Tour.
He played 19 times in 2018, making a dozen starts on the big tour without a top-10 finish while he won three times in seven starts on the Champions tour. Based purely on results, it would seem an easy decision for Stricker but he likes the larger challenge of playing against the top-ranked players in the world for as long as he can.
“I’m not looking at the money part of it. If I did, I think I made more money last year in seven events on the Champions tour than I did on the regular tour. If that was the case I would be playing more on the Champions tour,” Stricker said.
“I feel it’s a challenge, and I’m still feeling good enough and excited enough to take on that challenge. I’ve always been a guy that (if) somebody, he says no, you can’t do it, then it fuels me more to do it. Kind of taking that a little bit more personally, I think, and then making me focus a little bit more out here.”
Stricker is realistic about what he’s doing. The already small margin of error allowed in tournament golf is smaller for Stricker, who isn’t as long as the younger set, which demands he be judicious in choosing the spots he plays. His wedge game is still world class and he knows how to play to his strengths.
Always considered a brilliant putter, Stricker said he’s beginning to see his putting touch coming back. At one point, Stricker said he played around with bracing the grip of a longer putter against his left forearm like Matt Kuchar does. It was a passing fancy.
“I’m optimistic and that’s why I’m out here,” Stricker said.
There is also the expectation that Stricker will be named the next captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. No formal announcement has been planned yet but Stricker is the overwhelming favorite to succeed Jim Furyk in the captain’s seat.
“I just don’t know yet,” said when asked about becoming the captain. “It’s something that I would be truly honored and excited to do right there in my home state of Wisconsin (the 2020 matches are at Whistling Straits) and right down the road, couple hours down the road.
“But no one knows yet for sure. Got to hold off and put it in the (PGA of America’s) hands and the committee that’s making the decision and go from there.”
Steve Stricker reacts after eagling the 18th hole to make the cut in the Sony Open in Hawaii. Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports
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