Steve Stricker is ending quite a year for him in Naples this coming week.
The 50-year-old played in 12 tournaments in the PGA Tour’s wraparound season, tying for fifth at the John Deere Classic and 16th at the Masters. Then he captained the US team to the Presidents Cup in September, winning 19-11 over the International Team with former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama along for the ride, and President Donald Trump presenting the trophy.
“It was everything and more than I thought it was going to be,” Stricker said Saturday in Naples, where he will play with Sean O’Hair in the QBE Shootout hosted by Greg Norman at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort beginning Wednesday.
“It was a lot of work leading up to it, a lot of work the month before, and then just a lot of fun during the week. There was a lot of satisfaction to see those guys play so well. It was a great month and year.”
Stricker pulled out the clubs and came to Naples to get ready after not playing in a tournament for three months.
He’s got to get used to a new partner, been loving Naples, would love to be the 2020 Ryder Cup captain in his home state, and watched a bit of Tiger Woods’ return to golf this week.
Stricker will be playing in his first tournament since the Northern Trust Open in late August.
“A bit rusty,” he said. “I’ve been down here for a couple of days and trying to get as much practice as I can get in kind of thing. It’s not too bad so far.”
Stricker won’t be with his usual Shootout playing partner, Jerry Kelly, with whom he finished second behind Matt Kuchar and Harris English last year. They also won it in 2009. But O’Hair has a good history in the event, winning with Kenny Perry in 2012.
“He’s got a lot of game,” Stricker said of O’Hair. “He hits its long. There’ll be a little learning curve. Jerry and I play a fairly similar game. That’s why we did well in this event over the years. It was an easy pairing for us. We’re good friends.
“But it shouldn’t take much time with Sean. We’ve hung out before and been on a team together before.”
Stricker is from Wisconsin and played for the University of Illinois, so he has a lot in common with many seasonal and transplanted residents of Southwest Florida. Maybe it’s no surprise then that he’s found himself spending more and more time in the area.
“We spend quite a bit of time down here,” Stricker said. “We’re here for these couple of weeks, and then we’re going to come back for a couple of weeks right after Christmas. then around spring break time for our kids.”
Stricker is a member at nationally ranked Calusa Pines Golf Club, and also has played out at Naples National and Tiburón.
“They’ve been great to us,” he said. “We come down here and we’ve got great weather and great golf courses. It’s kind of a no-brainer. You’ve got a beach if you want to go to the beach.”
Stricker wasn’t at Tiburón for the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship that wrapped up two weeks ago, but he was following it, and was watching when Lexi Thompson missed a 2-foot par putt that could’ve won the tournament or at least had her in a playoff. Thompson still won the $1 million CME Globe and the Vare Trophy for season-low stroke average on the tour, but she also could have been Player of the Year and possibly moved up to No. 1 in the world rankings.
Thompson will be back at the Shootout—and at Tiburón—as the first female to play in two of them. Last year, she played with Bryson DeChambeau, and is with long-hitting Tony Finau this year.
“Obviously she’s a major draw on the women’s side and in golf in general,” Stricker said. “She’ll be a big draw here. It’s cool and it’s neat to see her playing. I know it’s a little bittersweet for her I’m sure after what happened here a few weeks ago. I feel bad for her. She put herself in a great spot.
“… I’ve never been in that spot to have that much riding on one little putt. In golf, we’re always getting knocked down. She’ll be fine. We’ve learned as golfers to forget about it as best we can and keep moving forward. It’s hard, though. I think she’ll relish the chance when she gets back in that position again.”
Stricker’s performance as Presidents Cup captain has himself in position to be a future Ryder Cup captain. And the fact that the Ryder Cup is at Whistling Straits in his home state in 2020 makes more than enough sense for Stricker to be in the mix.
“There’s only one that the time would be right and that would be when it goes to Wisconsin in 2020,” he said. “… If I’m part of (2018 captain Jim Furyk’s) team next year, I’d love to do that again, be a part of that. It’s a lot of fun. If you can’t play on them anymore, then you definitely want to be a part of them somehow.
“It’s cool to just be a part of it that week and help leading up to it. It’s something you don’t want to miss.”
One of Stricker’s assistants at the Presidents Cup was Tiger Woods, who’s returned this week after missing a great deal of time due to back surgery. Stricker said he’s watched “bits and pieces” of Woods, who was near the lead after the first two rounds of his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas before falling back with a 3-over 75 following four bogeys on his first seven holes.
“He’s looking loose, and can still swing at it,” Stricker said. “There’ll be a learning curve for him again. Golf is a lot of the mental side. To string four good rounds together … he hasn’t played for almost a year. It’s good to see him back.”
Stricker said Woods was optimistic about his return when they last spoke about it.
“This time around his feeling is, having talked to him, it’s fixed,” Stricker said. “It’s fused together. It’s as strong as it’s ever going to be. When you fuse. you may limit some of the rotation, bu it’s as strong as it’s going to be.
“I think he feels pretty good about the procedure and that it’s fixed right, and that he can put the work in to get better on the golf side of things.”