Saturday, February 27, 2021

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Steve Stricker juggling a lot in 2021, including trying to win

Steve Stricker is not a professional juggler.

But he has a lot of balls in the air.

Stricker, 53, had planned on playing a full PGA TOUR Champions schedule in 2021, really for the first time. But the coronavirus pandemic pushed the Ryder Cup to this year, and the Wisconsin native is the U.S. team captain.

So for the second year in a row, Stricker is playing predominantly on the PGA TOUR. That way he can keep tabs on the guys who will be on his team come late September at Whistling Straits in his native Wisconsin.

“We haven’t done anything related to the Ryder Cup since we canceled it last June, so I guess that’s on the backburner,” Stricker said last week. “Now we’re starting to think about it a little bit more. Still not sure the number of people who can come, that’s still an unknown. But now we’re starting to think about it a little bit. I see the players when I’m out there playing. It’s starting to become a thing where I’m thinking about it a lot.

“It’s just juggling my game and the Ryder Cup and everything else, Champions Tour. It’s just a juggling act. All the plates are spinning, as my father-in-law says.”

Ryder Cup captain, PGA TOUR Champions player, PGA TOUR player, husband, father. It’s really enough to make anyone’s head spin, but Stricker always has had this preternatural calm.

Yes, he’s an emotional guy when all is said and done – even a crier. But before the final ball drops in the hole in any given competition, it’s tough to tell if Stricker is up five strokes or down five.

Concerning his 2021 playing schedule, Stricker said first that he intended to play all of the majors on PGA TOUR Champions except for the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex. He has won a Regions Tradition (2019) and a U.S. Senior Open (2019). He said he also will play the Cologuard Classic next week in Arizona (he won it in 2018) and the American Family Insurance Championship in June in Madison, Wisconsin, for which Stricker serves as tournament host.

Around those events he’ll play whatever PGA TOUR events fit, one of which happened to be the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Feb. 4-7. It was never a tournament in which Stricker played well while competing regularly on the PGA TOUR, but there he was two weeks ago in the mix to win on the back nine on Sunday before finishing T4 at 17-under par after four rounds in the 60s.

“I never thought I’d have another opportunity to win (on the PGA TOUR), and I never played that well there. I think I had one top 10 in my career there before this last week,” said Stricker, who began a new workout regimen in the fall and says it has him feeling better and stronger than he has since turning 50. “It was more about it fit into the schedule and the weather was gonna be nice. We were … the family was all with me, kind of they weren’t ready to come home yet because of school and weather and we decided to stay out and play another week and it worked out well.

“Every time I go to a tournament I feel like I can play well there depending on how my game is at the time. My game was kinda trending in a bit better way (heading to Phoenix), but still I’m 53 and not hitting it as long as those other guys. But I’m driving it better and my iron play is getting better. I putted nicely for a few days. It was a fun surprise and it gives me some confidence going forward for sure.”

Stricker admitted he allowed himself to think he might supplant the legendary Sam Snead as the oldest player ever to win on the PGA TOUR.

“Oh yeah, I was like, ‘OK, let’s try to take advantage of the situation I’m in,’” Stricker said. “I was trying to win for sure. All the way down to Brooks’ chip-in on 17 … I figured if I can get up and down and if he does I’m still one back going down the last hole. I knew guys behind us had birdie-able holes. I figured I had to birdie 17 and 18 to have a chance. I was thinking about winning all the way to the end.”

But wouldn’t a win have thrown off his schedule? Stricker laughed wistfully.

“No, not at all,” he said. “You go play Augusta, and getting back in there would have been a treat. I would have enjoyed that very much.”

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Inside the Field: Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard

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