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Stricker's ace is 1 of a kind

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DUBLIN, Ohio — The par-3 eighth hole at Muirfield Village has never been Steve Stricker’s favorite hole. In fact, what’s the word for the opposite of favorite? Yeah, that’s how Stricker felt about the hole.
It was kind of his nemesis. Emphasis on was. Friday, Stricker hit a perfect 6-iron that ended in a perfect result—a hole-in-one that sparked a 30 on the front nine, his second nine of the day, and helped him jump out to a three-shot lead going into the weekend at the Memorial Tournament.
“That shot has always provided me with trouble over the years,” Stricker said of No. 8, a 185-yard par 3, which ranked as the fifth-hardest hole in last year’s Memorial.
The green is angled slightly left-to-right, perfect for the fade shot that tournament founder and course designer Jack Nicklaus was famous for. Stricker prefers to hit iron shots with a slight right-to-left draw, which normally makes his margin for error on that tee shot considerably smaller.
Friday afternoon, a left-to-right breeze gave Stricker a bigger window to shoot at. He could hit his draw shot and let the wind keep it on line—which it did exceptionally well.
“I didn’t see how it went in, but it looked like it went in fairly nicely, like a putt,” said Stricker. “It came off good, and I was surprised because I haven’t hit good shots there in years prior. It looked good the whole way, it was going right down the flag the whole way.”
On the way to the green, he said, he heard the usual comments like, “You’re buying!” And “What are we drinking?” It’s a tradition in golf that the ace-maker buys a round of drinks for everyone at the course that day. But that’s not going to happen at a professional tournament with a gallery, obviously.
Many amateur golfers would kill for the thrill of a hole-in-one, but many pros who hit thousands of shots a year take it in stride. Stricker was happy about the shot but it wasn’t as if he’d just pitched a no-hitter or something. He said he doesn’t keep track of how many aces he’s made. He guessed that he’s made seven in his life. Maybe as many as nine. He’s not even romantic about his very first ace. That came when he played on the University of Illinois golf team.
“It was in a practice round where I hit about three balls off the tee,” he said. “So I don’t even know if that constitutes a hole-in-one.”
This shot was just a good swing that had a great result. Asked what he did with the ball, which he kept in play and used to birdie the ninth hole, his final of the day, Stricker said he signed it and gave it to the group’s scorer after the round. The scorer said thank you, nothing else. Did he know it was the hole-in-one ball?
“I don’t know,” Stricker said. “I just signed it and gave it to him. I didn’t tell him. It’s just a ball.”
The last time Stricker made an ace in PGA Tour play was the 1997 Phoenix Open at the par-3 16th, notorious as golf’s loudest hole because of its party atmosphere. Tiger Woods famously made a hole-in-one there that week in the third round, when the hole is at its rowdiest. Stricker made his ace Sunday morning. Tiger’s ace and the crowd’s wild reaction has been replayed countless times.
“You didn’t see mine that year? No?” Stricker jokingly asked.
Few people did see it. “I teed off the back nine first Sunday so there weren't a lot of people there,” he said. “I won the car, though.”
A car was awarded as a hole-in-one prize at the 16th for Sunday’s final round only. Stricker was given an Oldsmobile Aurora for the shot. Probably the perfect car for a low-key guy who still lives in Madison, Wis., not far from where he grew up.
“I used it for a while,” Stricker said of the prize. “Then I traded it in for a minivan.”
(Photo: Tony Dejak/AP)

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by Kevin Cunningham