Seeking his fourth straight John Deere title, Steve Stricker talks deer hunting, being a dad and more

July 11, 2012

Steve Stricker has won the John Deere Classic three years running, and this week at TPC Deere Run looks to make it four in a row. A win this week would put Stricker in an exclusive club led by (who else?) Tiger Woods, who twice has won a tournament four years in a row (at Torrey Pines and Bay Hill).

With many of the game's top players overseas at the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart — Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen — in advance of next week's British Open, and given Stricker's record at TPC Deere Run, he will again be the favorite. A possible foil: Zach Johnson, whose regular caddie, Damon Green, is playing in this week's U.S. Senior Open at the Old Course at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich. 

Earlier this year, Stricker sat down with Golf Magazine to talk about Deere hunting, deer hunting, being a dad, and what compels him to live in Wisconsin.  

Related Article: Stricker's interview in July, 2012 issue of Golf Magazine

How come you're not sponsored by John Deere already? What else can you do besides win their tournament three years in a row?
[Laughs] Yeah, what do I gotta do? No, we're keeping it that way. It's a nice relationship. It's going good so far-we don't want to screw anything up.

I heard they're going to have a U.S. Open there.
[Laughs] That'd be good!

A lot of players say they're into hunting and fishing, but not many go through the trouble of living in Madison, Wis. What's your best story about getting the big one, or the one that got away?
I do a lot of bow-hunting for white-tailed deer, so every year we're chasing something. There are shots that I would love to have over, just like in golf. I've missed some really big white-tails, but that's what keeps you coming back, just like golf, you know? It keeps you workin' at it, trying to figure things out. You're trying to figure out that animal and get the upper hand on him. It's something I really look forward to in the fall time, and it's a great escape for me.

Do you dress your own animals after you kill them?
I haven't. I do every once in a while, but the guys I go with think I'm going to cut a finger or something, so they end up taking over and doing it. But I've done a small amount. I've done a few.

Do you go with the same guys every time?
Pretty much the same guys. My wife is getting back into it. She used to do it when I first met her and then she stopped. She does pretty good with a gun. I bought her a bow. She went with me two or three times this last year. And my kids are getting older, so my oldest has been out in a tree with me. They like coming. You try to involve everybody and have a good time with them. We bow-hunt. We didn't even gun-hunt this year. We give 'em a fighting chance.

Is your house full of trophy animals?
I've got one-the biggest one I've shot is in my office. He's like a mainframe 10-pointer, but he's got some extra little stickers on there; he's got 12 or 13 points. I shot him with a bow a couple hundred yards from my house.

Give me your best pitch for living in Madison, if you're working for the Chamber of Commerce.
It's got a great school system. People are friendly, with those Midwestern values. Madison is a college town, so we're big University of Wisconsin fans, even though I went to Illinois. We have season-tickets to the Badgers, so it's fun following those basketball and football teams. It's big enough, but yet small enough so you get to know a lot of people. It's a great community — if you can get past the winters. You've got great spring, summer and fall weather — if you can slash it out those four months of the year. Our winters are getting better.

Who is your fishing and hunting buddy?
He's just a friend I met through hunting. We farm together-we plant some food for the deer that we hunt, to try to attract the deer with corn, beans, clover, keep them around, give them a good place to live, and then shoot 'em. [Laughs] We mow it off, and plant it again the next year.

What have you learned from raising girls?
To be patient, and just to nod your head. [Laughs.] "Yes, honeys." Whatever they want to do; keep 'em happy, you know? No, but I've got great kids, great wife. My wife and my kids are very good when I go. It's part of daily living for us, unfortunately, when I go on the road. It's not a happy thing.

Do they cry when you leave?
No. My oldest did a little bit, but they've always been pretty good with it. My wife, it's always bothered her — the day before, everybody's always a little cranky. But she makes it very easy to do what I do.

What are they into?
My oldest, my 13-year-old, has got a lot of talent in golf. She broke 40 last year from the red tees at Cherokee Country Club in Madison. She's got a very natural swing, she putts good — for not working at it she does really well.

What are you struggling with as a parent?
Making sure I have enough time for all the things that I want to do. The hunting is in a short period of time in the fall, and then when it's not hunting season I've got to practice and travel and try to be there for them, too. I take them to school when I'm home.

What are you struggling with as a golfer?
Always as a golfer you're expecting a lot and working on things to get better. It's always in your head, trying to figure out ways to improve yourself.

Do you have all your trophies in your office, including the four Wisconsin State Open trophies?

You've given Woods some putting lessons. Could you ever have imagined in 2000 that you'd be trying to teach Tiger how to play golf?
I don't know how much he listens to me. It's a fun relationship. He's a good guy. He means well. He's made some bad decisions along the way, obviously, but it's great to see him playing well again.

How much were you reaching out to him when he was really in the wilderness, and nobody even knew where he was?
I had contact with him during that time, just to make sure that he knew I wasn't going to change, the way I treated him or acted around him. We had some times when we were teammates together, and partners on those teams, so we got to know each other.

What did you say to him? He must have been pretty down.
Yeah. You know, there were some things that were said, but I just tried to make it as normal as possible, and not dwell on what he'd been doing. It was more like us talking about his kids. I know he was struggling through that time. Everybody makes mistakes, and his are just so magnified because of who he is. Those were bad mistakes, and he knows that, but everybody deserves a second chance. What's important is what he does from here on out.

Do you hang out with Jerry Kelly and his family in Madison?
Every once in a while. We've been on different schedules. He's been playing different places than I've been playing.

What about Andy North? Is he still a Madison guy?
Yep. We went out to dinner just a couple weeks ago, Andy and his wife and my family. So yeah, I see him every once in a while and talk to him on the phone.

Wouldn't your game benefit if you moved to Jupiter, Fla., like everyone else?
I don't know if it would. I enjoy where I'm at. During the wintertime I'm comfortable with what I do. I hit balls out of a trailer. It's not for everybody. I don't think all the players could do what Jerry and I do-Jerry does the same thing up there, up at Cherokee. We've been in there when it's been below zero. This year was so mild, we never had any days like that. We're hitting in a heated area. The balls heat up; they're yellow range balls so you can find 'em in the snow.

You have to go get them yourself?
No, I don't go get 'em. The people who work there do. It's open to the public. It's good. It's what I'm used to. It forces me away from the game a bit during the wintertime, like when we were kids, but I still get a lot of practice. I can remember hitting in there when it's been zero, and your hands get cold. Normally if it's 20 or 30 degrees in there, and the wind isn't in your face, I'm in there with a T-shirt on. We're used to it.

Who helped you dig it out when you went through your slump?
My family and my father-in-law [Dennis Tiziani, the former golf coach at the University of Wisconsin]. I told him what I wanted, and I took more ownership in my swing. We started working better together.

You shortened your backswing quite a bit.

Would that be a good idea for a lot of people? It seems like it eliminates a lot of possibilities for error.
It can. There are other problems that arise from that, too, I think. But it's been a good thing for me. I was long and across the line, so I wanted to shorten things up, get a little firmer at the top, a little tighter. It made me more consistent, for sure. I'm straighter. I play right-to-left for the most part now, whereas before I didn't know.

Are you the tougher parent or the push-over?
My youngest daughter says, 'Mom is a no person and Dad is a yes person,' [Laughs] if that gives you any indication. I'm tough on them at times, in regards to how they treat one another and deal with other people. I can't take my kids being not respectful of adults, and each other. I'm tough on them on how they act, and make sure they're very nice — I stress that. My youngest one is a great kid but she's a little bit feisty. She hasn't got all that yet, so I work hard on her on that at times.

You take them to the season-opener at Maui and to Augusta National. Where else do they travel with you?
John Deere is close to home, so they come to that.

You've played more golf with Tiger than almost anyone. What have you learned from that?
There was a time, when he first came on Tour in '97, I was 30 years old, I had just come off a good season, and I tried to compare my game to his and there wasn't any comparison. He was so good, and it kind of deflated me to see that. It was hard. I think a lot of guys have gone through that. But now I'm so past that. I enjoy going out with him. I do good things that are different than what he does. I keep it in play, I do my own thing. I know he's going to do unbelievable things, but I'm older and more mature and I don't worry about it. It's like going out to play with a friend. We've played so much golf together, and we've been partners and teammates on these teams, we've grown very comfortable around each other.

When you're old and retired, what will be a moment that you look back on and laugh about together?
We came back to beat Mike Weir and I think maybe Tim Clark was his partner, at the [2009] Presidents Cup at Harding Park. They were beating us all the way around, and Tiger kept saying, 'We're going to beat these guys.' I'm like, 'We're 2 or 3 down with four to go. I mean, I'm in there with you, but it doesn't look so good.' [Laughs] We kept clawin' and scratchin' our way back in there, and he made a long putt on 17, and I hit the fairway on 18, and he hit this beautiful iron at 18 in there for eagle, and we ended up clippin' 'em and beatin' 'em on the last hole. That ended up pretty special, and it's one we still talk about.

At your age, what event do you most desperately want to win?
Any major.

How do you think you'll do at Royal Lytham?
I've had some good tournaments there. I think one of my best chances to win a major was at Carnoustie [in 2007. Stricker went 64-74 on the weekend and tied for eighth]. I think I was in the lead or tied for the lead going into the last day and missed a real good opportunity. It really doesn't matter. I feel like I could win any of 'em. It's just putting it all together that one week.

Are you an underachiever or an overachiever?
I work hard. I feel like I overachieve, I guess. There are some guys out here that I feel have more talent, and that's what keeps me working hard at it. I do some of the little things well, like chip and putt, that make a big difference.

When was the last time you cried?
I had a couple tears in my eyes winning Hyundai this year. My wife and kids are there, and it brings out emotion in me because you never know when you're going to do it again.