Stricker Looks to Defend at Riviera


Steve Stricker tees off Thursday at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., in pursuit of his second straight victory in the Northern Trust Open.

Last year, the native of Wisconsin, who turns 44 on February 23, edged England's Luke Donald by two strokes, closing with a 1-under 70 to finish the 72-hole event in 16-under 268.

The win at Riviera was the first of two victories for Stricker in 2010. In July, he won the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., with rounds of 60, 66, 62 and 70 to beat Paul Goydos - who fired a PGA Tour record-typing 59 in the opening round of that tournament - by two strokes. The second win was the ninth in Stricker's sparkling career.

On Wednesday, following his practice round at Riviera, Stricker sat down with reporters and gave them an update on his year so far and discussed his chances for retaining the title in the $6.5 million Northern Trust Open.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Steve Stricker to the interview room, our defending champion. Steve, maybe just talk about the good feelings I'm sure you have coming back to Riviera to defend your title.

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, very much so. It brings back a lot of great memories. You know, when you go around, you think a lot of the shots that you hit, especially in the last round. I remember Luke Donald putting on a great charge that final round and just remember trying to hang on. But a lot of great memories. You know, when you know you're going to win the tournament coming up that last hole and you've hit it on the green in two, it brings back pretty special feelings. And it's a great place. You know, it's a great tournament. It's a storied course, history-filled course, so it's a special place to win.

Q. What's the feel like at golf tournaments at this time of the year? And I guess in context, you started in Hawai'i, you've been to Qatar, so you're part of that Middle East swing, but it seems like this is a strong field this week and it's about to start picking up as you head to Match Play, Doral, Bay Hill, et cetera.

STEVE STRICKER: Very much so. Yeah, you know, it's picking up steam, I think, like you say. A lot of guys are here this week getting ready for the Match Play. A lot of European players are here getting ready, a lot of American players are here tuning up their games and getting ready for the Match Play. And this tournament itself, you know, I mean, let's not forget where we are. We're at Riviera, and Northern Trust puts on a great tournament, and everybody seems to enjoy coming here. I think you put all that together, it results in the great field that we have.

Q. How do you evaluate your game right now, and what are you hoping to see from yourself other than defending your title this week?

STEVE STRICKER: I'm a little rusty. You know, this time of the year I never know really what to get or what to expect of my game. I'm coming out of Wisconsin. I've had a week off at home where I can hit balls but I don't get to play, and that's what I like to do a lot of. I like to play, especially during the summertime when I practice, I play a lot. Like I say, I never know what to expect. I played decently today in the pro-am, so that's a good indication, and hopefully play well tomorrow, get off to a good start, and we dodge some rain showers. It doesn't look good for the weekend, but I just try as hard as I can coming out of the snow like this and just see what happens.

Q. Coming out of the snow, do you root for the bad weather maybe coming here or not?

STEVE STRICKER: No. You know, it's going to make it more difficult. I mean, the course played extremely long today. But I'd rather play in nice weather. I think we all would like to play in nice weather, and the people would like to come out here to the tournament in nice weather. But it doesn't look like it's going to happen over the weekend.

Q. Did you miss the Super Bowl because of the trip to the Middle East?

STEVE STRICKER: I did.

Q. Could you just first talk about that and how tough that might have been for you? I'm assuming you're a Packers guy.

STEVE STRICKER: I'm a Bears fan. I was rooting for the Packers to win, but no, we didn't get to see it. We were flying that evening when the game was going on.

Q. Could you talk about the overall experience? Are you glad you did it? Any negatives to it?

STEVE STRICKER: There wasn't any -- well, the only negative was the distance that you had to go to get there. But the course was great. The tournament was great. It was very well run. It was a great experience to tell you the truth. I'd go back, too, if it worked out well on the schedule and it fit into my plans and everything. It was a unique experience, an eye-opening experience, and like I say, I would go back, but if it was the only time that I went there, it was worth it. It was pretty neat.

Q. On the heels of that, when you go on a plane halfway across the world to play, does it give you kind of a renewed sense of appreciation for these guys that do it all the time?

STEVE STRICKER: Very much so.

Q. And the South Africans that globe trot?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I don't know how they do it. I got there a couple days early. I was there for ten days, and I got there a few days early, never really got caught up on my sleep, felt like I was never rested. You know, I take my hat off to these guys who do it on a regular basis. And that was probably the hardest part is just getting adjusted. You're in a foreign land. I felt like it was my first day at school to tell you the truth. I didn't know where to go, didn't know where to register, where anything was. It made me appreciate what we have here and how long I've been out on Tour here. I know the ropes, I know where to go, I know where to stay, and over there I felt like a fish out of water, I really did, and I take my hat off to the guys who do it on a regular basis. I see it's difficult going over there to play. I found it very hard to go over there and concentrate and play well, and I can see when these guys travel across from Europe to here how difficult it's got to be for them because there's a lot of other outside distractions that are going on, and the uncertainty of things, too.

Q. Last week they had beautiful weather at Pebble, and I just wondered, did you take account of that? Did you watch that tournament at all? Did you ever say, wow, I ought to be here, or do you say I'm not there and I don't care?

STEVE STRICKER: No, I watched the tournament. I realized that they had good weather, and they've had good weather the last few years there. But they've struggled over the history of having good weather there. I didn't wish I was there, no, but I watched it, and I always -- when I knew I was coming to LA. I put it in my iPhone and I started mapping out the weather ten days in advance and I start seeing what's going to come here, and I'm like, I wish we were going to have good weather, it doesn't happen it doesn't look like, but you never know, storms blow in and out of here, and we may get lucky. Today was supposed to be worse, and I think we dodged a storm today. You've just got to play with what you have and do the best you can with it.

Q. How is it different for you emotionally in every way when you're coming back defending a title? Do you feel differently these few days? Do you approach anything differently?

STEVE STRICKER: No, I don't feel really any differently. I guess you have a little bit more confidence knowing that you've played well here in previous years. I had a chance to win here a couple years ago when Phil won. So the last couple years have been good. So I can think about that and bring those memories forward and hopefully apply them to the start of the tournament tomorrow and get off to a good start. Just knowing that you've played well here in the past gives you a good frame of mind heading into the tournament I think.

Q. What is it about this course that you like, that suits you?

STEVE STRICKER: You know, I don't know. It's an old style course. We don't play too many of them anymore. It's pretty straightforward. There's really no water hazards to contend with. It's just old-time golf at its best, and like I say, this is one of the best.

Q. I just had a question in regards to the conditions of the course. Could you talk about that a little bit today?

STEVE STRICKER: It's in great shape. Obviously it's softer from the rains overnight and this morning, but it's in great shape. Yesterday it was perfect, and like I say, it got a little softer today. But this course drains well, holds up well. I can remember over the years, even last year we had quite a bit of rain, and it holds up with. The kikuyu fairways drain well, the greens drain fairly well, and it's in good shape.

Q. Having now been through the appearance fee thing over there, could you -

STEVE STRICKER: Who said I got paid?

Q. Just assuming.

STEVE STRICKER: Oh.

Q. More power to you if you did. But anyway, can you see that working here? Is that something that could work over here? Obviously we know that it's not allowed.

STEVE STRICKER: I don't know if it would work here or not. I think the way we have it right now is pretty darned good. And there's variations of guys getting paid. I think everybody knows it now. I mean, you know, guys get sponsored by some of these tournaments that are hosting tournaments, like RBC or Buick over the years sponsored Tiger. He goes over there and plays all the Buick tournaments, so there's a version of that, I guess, going on right now. I think when you put the money into the purse and create such a big purse, that's what lures the top players in the world and the venues that we play at, like here at Riviera. So no, I don't think I'd like to see it here at all on this Tour.

Q. Two questions: What was the most eye-opening experience at Qatar?

STEVE STRICKER: The diversity of people. I was expecting a lot more Qataris, Muslims, and there was very few. I mean, there's like 400,000 out of the 11/2 million people are Muslims, and the rest of them are ex-pats they call them, people from all over, Great Britain, Canada. I met people from Canada, the U.S., Nepal, India. They're from everywhere. So it was a pretty diversified -- the people are from, like I say, from everywhere. So that was pretty eye-opening. I was expecting it a lot different.

Q. Secondly, there's been a lot of banter, mostly probably in the press, about the best players in the world being in Europe right now. Did you pick up any of that when you were there?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I got questioned about that quite a bit. And there are. I mean, they're over there right now. The top two players are from Europe. You know, and they're probably playing the best, too. Martin Kaymer is probably playing the best. Lee Westwood has been playing great. You know, that's -- I don't think there's any fluke in the system. I think those two guys have been playing the best over the course of the last year.

Q. You mentioned earlier how much you now appreciate what some of the Europeans and South Africans and Australians do with their traveling. Your experience in Qatar, how much more impressed now are you by what Graeme McDowell did in the last year, that seven week run, crisscrossing time zones and keeping his form?

STEVE STRICKER: And playing well, like you said. I said that earlier, I take my hat off to those guys. Maybe they build up some sort of immune system to the travel. I don't know. But maybe the more you do it, the more accustomed to the travel you are. I mean, I've never done it. I go over one time a year to the British Open, and that's it, and that seems to be a hard week to get adjusted. So maybe the more times you do it, you learn how to deal with it. But like I said, Poulter, he did the same thing at the end of the year. I mean, every time I turned on the TV they were in a new country playing great golf. It's pretty impressive when they can do that. And like I say, it's -- it was so new to me that it felt uncomfortable, and maybe the more you do it, you just build up a comfort level of doing it and playing well and coping with things like that.

Q. I think you played yesterday with Erik Compton. Certainly he has limited opportunities out here to play, but I was wondering if you could speak to the quality of his game and maybe just his story and the fact that he's out here playing.

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I think it's a great story, and I was asking him a bunch of questions yesterday because I was very interested in how he's feeling, his condition of his heart, and how that whole thing played out over the years of his life. First of all, he's a great kid, great guy, and a good player. He hit the ball very well, straight, accurate. We had a good time yesterday. I played with him and J.P. Hayes, and we had a good time. I find it amazing that he's able to even play the game, you know, from what he's gone through over the course of his life. He's got a great attitude, first of all. I think that's what makes him so special is that he's got a great attitude about it. You know, he doesn't know. He doesn't know what's going to happen. I said, how long can the heart that you have in, I mean, is there a prognosis for how long it's going to last, or do you get put on a list now for if something were to happen? You know, he just takes it day by day he says and goes with it, and he feels great. You know, like I say, I think a great attitude helps with the whole thing.

Q. Given the same circumstances that Phil had at 13 at Augusta last year, would you have done what he did? Would you have attempted that shot? Two-shot lead from the trees.

STEVE STRICKER: From the trees. Probably not. I mean, well, it would have been a hook lie for me. That was strike one against me. I can't cut it; that's strike two. So it looked like he had to draw it around that tree for him. I would have had to cut it around a hook lie. So everything would have been working against me. He was trying to draw it off of a cut lie for him, so he had that working against him, plus he's a little bit stronger than I am, and he can take in a little less club than what I would have had to -- I think he hit 6- or 7-iron, didn't he? I probably would have had to have been hitting a 4-iron or maybe even 3-iron. I probably wouldn't have.

Q. Do you think you would have thought about it much?

STEVE STRICKER: I would have thought about it, yeah, and my caddie probably would have been tugging on my collar just telling me to lay up. And I don't mind laying up. I feel good with my wedges and stuff like that. But he took a gamble there, and it paid off.

Q. In the NBA it's been said that the defending champion is always the team to beat; they'll be the defending champions until another team can beat them. Do you kind of feel the same way about yourself at the tournament this year?

STEVE STRICKER: No, not really, and the other tournaments that I've gone into as the defending champion, I really don't feel like I'm the guy to beat. I mean, there's so many good players. Anybody can get it going for a week and win the tournament. I just go in and try to play my own game, not worry about trying to win again, just get off to a good start, try to play well the first day and keep plugging along. It's a long process. It's four days. We're going to have some weather to deal with probably. No, I don't feel like I'm the guy to beat by any means. I just try to fly in under the radar a little bit and try and do my own thing.

MODERATOR: Steve, best of luck this week.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.

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