Steve Stricker on why he played the U.S. Senior Open with a chip on his shoulder (and 13-year-old irons in his bag)
Coming off the first U.S. Senior Open win of his career, 52-year-old Steve Stricker was in good spirits on Monday. And why wouldn’t he be? He just demolished the tournament’s scoring record and won his second senior major. Less than 24 hours after the victory, Stricker dished on spending time in South Bend, watching his daughter in the Drive, Chip and Putt and why Midwesterners are crazy about golf.
How’d you celebrate the U.S. Senior Open victory?
Stricker: To be honest, it wasn’t much of a celebration! We left South Bend and drove four hours back home to Madison. So we didn’t get back until about 1 in the morning. So there wasn’t much celebration going on. But it was great to get back home.
You’ve won 12 times on the PGA Tour and now five times on the PGA Tour Champions. Where does the U.S. Senior Open win rank on the list?
You know, it ranks right up there with any of my wins, really. It was a special week and a USGA event, something that I was never able to do on the regular tour. You hold those USGA events in a special place, even though it’s on the Champions Tour side of things, it’s a special tournament. They put on a great tournament and you always know that it means a little bit something extra when you go there and play in USGA events.
Did you realize after the win that the victory got you into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot?
I knew that it did because I remember David Toms playing this year at Pebble Beach. And I knew that it did but I just didn’t put two and two together until in the media center there when the media official told me that it got me in. I just had forgotten about it. But yeah that’s a nice treat to be able to go back out there and play again.
Does a win like this change your schedule at all for next season? You were already splitting your time between the PGA Tour and Champions. Not to mention you’re going to be Ryder Cup captain.
It probably doesn’t change anything for next season. I think being the [Ryder Cup] captain and just trying to be out there as much as I can is still going to be an important piece of the puzzle. I still want to do that — show my face out there as much as I can leading up to the Ryder Cup.
The Warren Course at Notre Dame was the first collegiate venue to host a major. How did you think it held up over four days and how did it compare to the average a U.S. Open setup?
I thought it was a great facility, great test. It got harder every day. The course looked like it’d been there for 100 years, even though it was more like 20. It had a great feel to it. Just right off the campus of Notre Dame and you know, the whole week, the whole setup, the USGA did a wonderful job. And it was a very well-run tournament. And I was able to talk to Mr. Warren, who donated the money and he was still proud and extremely happy that the tournament. A lot of people had a great time.
Fans came out in droves for the U.S. Senior Open in South Bend and the PGA Tour’s event in Detroit last week. I got the sense it’s a golf-mad area of the country. As a Midwest guy, would that be a fair assessment?
Yeah, you’re right. And I think the Midwest is, they’re not starved for watching competitive golf, but there’s just not a lot of competitive golf or tournament golf taking place in the Midwest. So when something comes around, I mean we hold a Champions Tour event right in Madison and we get unbelievable crowds. It’s in the middle of June next year. People come out to support it and they love watching. And Minnesota was the same way when we went up there for the Champions Tour event. Then the Ryder Cup was there, the crowds came out there big time.
I mean the Midwest people, they’re just passionate people about sports and they enjoy getting out there to support their teams or their players. They’re very supportive in that way. And it’s fun to see and fun to be a part of golf here in the Midwest.
You went to the University of Illinois. You’re a big Wisconsin Badgers fan. I saw the USGA gave everybody in the field a Notre Dame jersey. Where is Steve Stricker putting a Notre Dame jersey in his house, if at all?
That’s a good question. I’ve received some other jerseys along the way over the years and this one is pretty special though, having won there. And being able to go down on the field and throw the ball around with my wife Nicki. And they just took such great care of us, good care of us. All in all, it was just a … you could feel the energy and the vibe there being such a big sports town that the campus is unbelievable. Everything is brand new. I mean it’s a cool place. And you could feel that when you went around there.
Have you ever been to a football game in South Bend before?
No, we went to a basketball game. We’re friends with Tony Bennett, the Virginia basketball coach, and we went down there four years ago and took in a game during the winter months in January. We were able to see the campus then, but this time we were able to walk around a little bit more, the weather was warmer and we went down and went in the Golden Dome building and we went to the grotto and inside the football stadium. We were able to see a lot more this time around.
You missed out on winning your hometown Champions Tour tournament the week before the U.S. Senior Open. Was it sort of a blessing in disguise?
Yeah, I came to South Bend with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. It just stung. When you have that opportunity and then not make that putt, you know, right there in front of your fans, hometown crowd. Granted Jerry [Kelly] won and it was great for our tournament, great for him. But as a player, as a competitor, you know, when you’re put in that situation, you want to be able to do it and perform. And I wasn’t able to do it. And that hurt. I used it as motivation really for this last week. I came there with a little bit of edge and it paid off. I was very committed and very driven to play well and to try to win.
You won with a set of 13-year-old Titleist 755 irons and seven-year-old 913 driver. Have you always preferred playing known gear to trying the latest and greatest?
Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s better, right? And that doesn’t mean it’s better for you. I’ve had great tournaments and won quite a few with those 755s. I was mainly going back to that clubs because of the shaft that was in there. I had some shaft problems with the [AP2] 710s, not able to find the exact same shafts that I’ve had in those clubs. And those shafts ended up bending and I wasn’t able to find another set of them. I have been searching and so I’m like, you know, just to go back to something I know, and something that I’ve played before, and something that I liked.
So that’s why I went back to those. And it’s been a little bit of a game changer, really. I’ve hit the ball a little bit better every week that I’ve had them in the bag. And I’m starting to see some really good things again.
What would you say to a mid-handicapper who was considering new gear versus sticking with their current setup?
I think you just got to find something that you really like. Every manufacturer, every club, every design promotes something different. The other reason I went back to the 755s is that it’s got a little bit more offset than some of the newer Titleist stuff. And I enjoy that offset. So I think if I was telling an amateur, I’d probably ask them what they like to look down at? What do you enjoy hitting or seeing and what do you have the most confidence in? And then, learning that particular club or clubs and sticking with it. Because it means a lot when you can have confidence before you even set up to the ball.
Does your tournament prep differ at all when you’re preparing for a major championship versus a regular tour event?
Probably not. Because I’ve always been a guy that takes every event very seriously. If I’m going to go out on the road, if I’m going to leave Madison and my home, I want to go and be prepared to try to play well wherever I go. And that’s no different in a major or a regular Tour event. So I prepare a lot for every event that I go to.
Did you get to see the Warren Course in advance of last week?
Last week was a little bit short notice. I mean, we had our event last week in Madison. I didn’t get down [to South Bend] until Monday night because Izzi, our youngest one, was doing the Drive, Chip and Putt on Monday here in Madison. So we didn’t get down there until late. So I only really got nine holes on Tuesday and nine holes on Wednesday. And I was more concerned about getting rest coming off this big week here in Madison the week before. So it was a little bit different prep than normal, but one that worked. Because I was excited to get back out there on Thursday and I was rested and ready to go.
Speaking of Izzi, I saw she won her age group at the Drive, Chip and Putt. Describe the experience of being on the other side of the ropes when you’re watching your daughter compete. And do you see any of your own game and demeanor in her?
I was nervous for her. I mean, I knew she was going to be nervous and I knew she had high expectations for herself as well. And I think she sees what I do and then winning a tournament here and there and she thinks that it should just come and be handed to her. So she’s realizing that she’s got to work, put in the time to get better. And she sees how much I work at it, which is a good thing. She handled it extremely well. I was so glad to see that. And again, this is going to help her in anything she does, not just golf stuff. Just in life situations.
She said, “Dad, my knees were shaking when I was hitting the drives.” And she piped all three right down the middle. And so she’s learning how to deal with that pressure. And to see her perform still under pressure was really cool to see. And I’m not one that gets in her kitchen and you know, makes her do things. It’s all about her time and whatever she chooses to do, she can do. But she’s starting to see that she can have some success in there and she’s working harder to try and do it.
Your wife Nicki was on the bag for you, which I’m sure made the win even more special. You mentioned last week that she’s been on the bag more than you anticipated. When did that change?
It’s totally up to her. If she wants to come and caddie, I love to have her. So it’s what she feels like doing. She loves to be out there. I love having her out there. It’s a special bond that we have when we’re out on the course. And then to top it all off to win together out there is even a little bit more special. So I cherish those times and those moments we have out there and it’s really up to her. I think she’s getting tired though this year. She’s done it quite a bit. She said, “I’m not so sure I’m going to go to the next one.” So I’m wearing her down, I guess.
Your entire family’s spending more time with you on the road this season. What’s it like preparing for a tournament when you have the whole crew with you?
I’m used to it. We’re together a lot. It’s a kind of, we spend a lot of time together, which we love. Golf is in our blood and both kids love to do it. Nicki plays a lot, which drags me out there more. Nicki and I left to go down to Notre Dame by ourselves and we’re thinking we were going to be there by ourselves for the week and the girls say, “Hey, we want to come.” So it’s up to them if they want to be there or not. And they wanted to be there. And so they came in for the first round and they were there for the whole time after that. It’s been a family deal this year. And it’s fun as a dad to have my kids out there and my wife out there and they love being there.