Steve Stricker is stoked for U.S. Open
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com June 6, 2012 11:10PM
Steve Stricker, 45, calls the Olympic Club, site of the 2012 U.S. Open, “one of my favorite courses.” | Scott Halleran~Getty Images
Updated: July 8, 2012 6:59PM
SILVIS, Ill. — One-half of a successful Ryder Cup/President’s Cup pairing, Steve Stricker is glad to see that the other half, Tiger Woods, is roaring again.
“Very good for the Tour,’’ Stricker said when I asked him about Woods’ victory Sunday at the Memorial, a tournament Stricker won a year ago. “[When] he’s on the front page of the sports page, it brings so much attention to our sport. It’s definitely a good thing.’’
With the U.S. Open starting one week from today, the next question is whether Stricker also is ready to make some noise at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He finished fifth the last time the Open was played there in 1998, and he was taking notes while paired the final day with Lee Janzen, who earned his second Open title.
“It’s a great test, one of my favorite courses,’’ said Stricker, who logged some rounds at Olympic when he and Mike Small anchored the Illini golf team in the late ’80s. “[Our] coach was from the California area, and we were able to play there during one of our spring breaks. It’s just a great, traditional, old‑style golf course. There’s only one fairway bunker and no water hazards on the course. It’s just right in front of you, tough as can be. A lot of little movements off the tee where fairways are maybe sloping in a direction where it’s very difficult to keep it in the fairway, and of course the USGA will have the rough up, the greens fast.’’
In a sport as competitive as golf, Stricker isn’t exactly in a slump. But the Madison, Wis., resident is 45 — and he hasn’t been putting well, which always has been a big key to his success.
He also has dealt with a herniated disc in his neck since early 2011. But Stricker said the injury is under control and pronounced himself ready for an upcoming busy stretch that will include the U.S. and British Opens.
In between those majors, he also will try to carve his place in history by winning the John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities on July 12-15 for the fourth time in a row. Since Gene Sarazen won the Miami Open for the fourth time in 1930, only one player has won a tournament four consecutive times.
That would be Woods, who has done it twice — at Bay Hill in 2000-03 and San Diego in 2005-08.
“It’s a unique opportunity,’’ Stricker said. “Just to win a golf tournament is hard, let alone four times in a row. But I’m excited about the challenge. I thought about it at the beginning of the year. I’m a deer hunter. To get a trophy with a deer on there, that’s pretty cool.’’
The most-troubling aspect of Stricker’s fall-off is that his legendary putter — Woods has sought Stricker’s advice on flat-stick use — has betrayed him. While finishing 50th at the Memorial last week, he missed 10 putts from inside 8 1/2 feet. Once automatic, he ranks 142nd on 3-to-5-foot putts.
“I’ve got some work to do in that [putting] department. I’m really struggling with it,’’ said Stricker, who’s tinkering with his setup, grip pressure and even pondering some bigger putting changes.
Stricker wouldn’t be the first pro to see his putting stroke desert him in his mid-40s. He also knows he’ll be a bucking a bigger trend, the longer he goes without a major win.
“It’s not life or death,’’ he said. “I’m 45, so that window of opportunity is dwindling. I realize where I’m at. I also realize I’ve played some great golf over the last 5-6 years, won a lot of tournaments. That gives me the confidence that I could still do it. I just have to put four good rounds together, get the putter going a little bit, see what happens.’’