Stricker takes a major step back from golfing carousel
American Ryder Cup star decides to slash his playing schedule in half this year, writes KAREN CROUSE
On his 27th hole of the day on Monday, Steve Stricker sat in the fairway and rolled on his back like a pill bug. Stricker had waited 67 hours and 25 minutes to hit the first shot of his title defence at the Tournament of Champions, but a pinched nerve on his left side was causing him so much discomfort, he was not sure he could weather 36 holes on the hilly, 7,411-yard Plantation Course.
When the event finally got under way Monday morning after a three-day wind delay, Stricker spoke to a rules official and expressed doubts that he would be able to finish.
Upon picking himself up off the fairway at the 18th hole, his ninth of the second round, Stricker received the shot of adrenaline that he needed to continue. He holed his third shot for an eagle on his way to a six-under-par 67 and a 36-hole total of eight under, three strokes behind the leader, Dustin Johnson, who posted scores of 69 and 66.
“My tempo is good because I can’t hit it very hard,” Stricker said. “It was uncomfortable to play, but it never got any worse.”
Monday dawned here with gusts of 37 mph, an unwelcome development given that the window was closing to complete the 54 holes required for an official event. Twice, the golfers had been sent out on the course, only to have their scores voided because heavy winds made the course unplayable.
The winds died down Monday before the first groups went off at 7.10am and picked up in the afternoon, but the course remained playable because the greens were slower than normal.
Yesterday’s 18-hole finish will not cause much of a disruption in Stricker’s schedule.
Instead of continuing on to Honolulu for the next tour stop, an event he has graced almost every year since 1994, Stricker will travel only as far as the other side of Maui. He will spend the rest of the week snorkelling and sightseeing with his wife, Nicki, and their daughters Bobbi, 14, and Isabella, 6.
The pinched nerve has been a nuisance for the past month, but it did not become a nagging pain until he arrived here.
Asked if he would have made this stop one of his few starts if he had been in as much pain before the trip, Stricker said: “I’m sure we would have come. The kids would have dragged me over, for sure.”
At 45, Stricker is the oldest player in the field, and he’s eighth on the career money list, with more than $35 million. Nine of his 12 tour victories have come since he turned 40, which is why his decision to slash his schedule almost in half this year after making 19 starts in 2012 raised some eyebrows.
The decision to voluntarily step away makes Stricker an outlier in a culture that perpetuates the mantra – “I compete, therefore I am”.
Carl Pettersson, a self-described family man with two children and five tour victories, said: “I actually applaud him for doing it. It’s a big decision.”
Unlike athletes in team sports, golfers are independent contractors. They are technically free to carve their own career paths. But it’s not that simple.
As Stricker pointed out, he has corporate sponsors to serve, including Avis and Titleist. He said he consulted with each company to see if his reduced tour profile was going to be problematic, “and you know, for the most part, they are all on board,” he said.
Andy North, a two-time US Open champion, said the decision was consistent with Stricker’s character.
“He’s a Midwest kind of guy who values the relationships with his family, his children and his community,” North said.
North is not surprised more athletes are unable to step back from their sports to enjoy the fruits of their labour and the company of their families.
“You’ve dedicated your life, basically every waking moment of it, to try to do this, and so often guys don’t have anything else to do,” North said, adding: “For so many players, how they’re identified as a person is how they play. Steve is someone who looks at golf as what he does and not who he is.”
North and Stricker share Wisconsin roots, and they talk regularly. For the past couple of years, Stricker has spoken of scaling back his schedule. That he decided to carry out his semiretirement plan this year led some people to wonder if Stricker was reacting to his struggles at the Ryder Cup, where he compiled an 0-4 record and missed a number of putts that are normally routine for him.
Stricker insisted his decision had nothing to do with his Ryder performance and everything to do with a desire to be a more diligent husband and father.
Practice and try
“My oldest has asked to come with me a number of times to practice, and it always seems like it’s not at the right time because I need to go and practice and try to get ready for a tournament and all that,” Stricker said.
“You know, that’s what I want to change a little bit, is spend a little bit more time with her. She’s interested in the game, to get a little bit better, or whatever she wants, and maybe take some of the focus off what I’m doing and put it more on the other three.”
Stricker, whose next event will be the matchplay event outside Tucson, Arizona, in late February, also wants to devote time to a foundation directed at helping adolescents that he formed with one of his sponsors, American Family Insurance.
“It’s time to spend a little bit more time at home, do this foundation work, and just come out fresh and ready and prepared when I do play. And I still think I can play well and to a high level.” He added: “I’m extremely excited about it. It was kind of a weight lifted off me when I made the decision.”
New York Times