Steve Stricker always thought it was a long shot, and he recently was reminded that the USGA is tight when it comes to special exemptions for the U.S. Open.
“I wrote them quite a while back and asked for one, and they politely called me and declined,” Stricker said.
The U.S. Open will be played in Wisconsin this year for the first time, June 15-18 at Erin Hills, a little more than an hour east of where Stricker lives in Madison. Stricker is a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour who reached as high as No. 2 in the world.
He didn’t think that was enough to warrant a special exemption, but his brother-in-law and agent, Mario Tiziani, told him it was worth a shot.
The U.S. Open gave an exemption last year to two-time champion Retief Goosen. Before that, it gave exemptions to Vijay Singh and Tom Watson in 2010 at Pebble Beach. The last player awarded an exemption without having won a major? That would be Aaron Baddeley in 2000 when he was a 19-year-old amateur at Pebble Beach.
Stricker, the U.S. captain for the Presidents Cup this year, still hopes to be at Erin Hills.
He’s just trying to figure out the best path.
Stricker turned 50 in February and has been splitting time on both tours. He has top 10s in his three starts on the PGA Tour Champions, including a runner-up finish to Tom Lehman in Arizona. He tied for 16th in the Masters earlier this month, his best finish in four starts on the PGA Tour.
If nothing else, Stricker has entered U.S. Open sectional qualifying in Tennessee. That’s where he played a year ago, missing out on qualifying by one shot. But at No. 94 in the world and the bare minimum divisor because of his limited schedule, he still can reach the top 60 by May 22 or by the Monday of the U.S. Open.
Stricker is playing the Zurich Classic this week with Jerry Kelly (they tied for eighth last week at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf), which won’t help his cause toward the U.S. Open because no world ranking points are awarded.
After a week off, he will be at The Players Championship and then the Regions Tradition, the first of five majors on the PGA Tour Champions. And then he’s undecided. The following week is the Senior PGA Championship, which is the same week as Colonial.
“I’m leaning toward Colonial,” Stricker said. “I still want to be relevant. I can still compete out there, it’s a good course for me and I won there.”
Stricker is new to this 50-and-older circuit and still trying to figure out the importance of its five majors. He would like to win the Senior PGA or any other senior major, although it’s not quite the same as a regular major.
“And that’s why I’m having a hard time,” he said. “It’s a major out there, and I feel like it’s an important tournament. But I feel like Colonial is important, too. And I’m feeling that pull to the PGA Tour, and that’s the dilemma I’ve been having. And I haven’t come up with any good solutions.”
Whatever he decides, Stricker said he plans to be at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, which follows the U.S. Open qualifier. He also is on the fence about Memorial, where he is a past champion. To play Muirfield Village, however, would be five straight tournaments – six if he finds his way to the U.S. Open.