ORLANDO, Fla. – Steve Stricker owns a checkered past on the PGA Tour. He has struggled at times and then reaffirmed his position among the game’s elites.
In his 29-year professional career, Stricker has experienced more ups and downs than many of his PGA Tour colleagues. At 52, he has recorded 12 wins among 108 top 10s. Though it’s not a Hall of Fame career even in this watered-down era of induction, Stricker finds himself in elite company as U.S. captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup.
That honor helps explain why Stricker wants to continue to play on the PGA Tour instead of the Champions Tour, on which he won three times in 2018.
Stricker plans to play 12-15 tournaments on the PGA Tour and “a handful” on the 50-and-older tour this year. The plan would seem to be sound, except that Stricker is not playing well against the flat-bellies.
He hasn’t posted a top-10 result since July 2017, a T-5 in the John Deere Classic. He has made plenty of cuts – nine of his past 11, including a T-58 on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – but Stricker typically has been finishing play as the leaders start their rounds.
“I'm not playing great,” Stricker said. “I love being out here, but I'm not playing like I should.”
With his duties as Ryder Cup captain, Stricker thinks he needs to be inside the ropes on the Tour. He points to the past week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, during which he was paired for the first two rounds with Keith Mitchell, the winner a week earlier at the Honda Classic. Mitchell, 27, likely would have remained relatively unknown to Stricker had the captain not committed to playing the PGA Tour. Such encounters are important to Stricker.
“If I was out at the [Champions Tour’s] Hoag Classic out in Newport Beach, I wouldn't have had that opportunity to play with him,” Stricker said. “So, it was good to play with him, watch his game, get to know him a little bit, as a kid I hadn't gotten to spend much time with before. That's one of the reasons why I'm doing it, and it worked out this week where I was able to play with him.”
Mitchell shot 71-68 while paired with Stricker and eventually tied for sixth (scores). He could be one of the 12 players on the Ryder Cup team that will head to Whistling Straits in Stricker’s native Wisconsin in 18 months. The time spent with the captain at Bay Hill could be important in determining whether Mitchell merits one of four captain’s picks or with whom he might pair should he earn a spot on the team.
Though Stricker points to the Ryder Cup as a reason for being on Tour, he ultimately doesn’t want to give up the competition against the world’s best golfers.
As Kevin Costner, in his character Crash Davis, referred to the big leagues in “Bull Durham,” it’s “The Show.”
Stricker earned his way into golf’s big leagues twice: in 1994 as a rookie and then again in 2003, after he had lost his game.
In 2006, Stricker found himself atop the leaderboard after two rounds in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He would finish T-6 but never would want for PGA Tour starts again.
“I still feel like I'm capable of playing well out here,” Stricker said. “But the way I've been putting is saying otherwise. There're some good signs in there yet for me to play well out here, and I keep working at it. It’s the biggest stage there is in golf, so I keep wanting to be here.”
And when he is, the American Ryder Cup hopefuls can expect to be noticed.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli