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Stricker off to Good Start in 2012


Steve Stricker was concerned that the beginning of his 2012 campaign might be delayed. A neck injury that bothered him toward the end of 2011 had become such a problem that he contemplated surgery.

In the BMW Championship in September, Stricker could barely move his left arm because of the ailment. But instead of going under the knife, the 44-year-old Wisconsinite opted for cortisone shots and extensive physical therapy.

The less invasive treatment worked as Stricker closed with a steady 4-under 69 and won the PGA Tour's season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions by three strokes. The victory was worth $1.12 million and 500 FedEx Cup points.

"I don't want to have surgery," he said at the conclusion of the tournament Monday evening at Kapalua Resort in Maui, Hawaii. "I don't think at this point I need it. I'm just going to go ahead and try to do this maintenance that I've been doing the last couple of months and see if that'll remedy the problem."

Stricker, who turns 45 on February 23, has now racked up nine wins since turning 40. After accepting the winner's hardware and paycheck, he met with reporters for the following interview session.

MODERATOR: Congratulations to our 2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions winner Steve Stricker, first win of the PGA Tour season. I know this is a tournament you've contended at and never been able to get that win. What's it feel like now that you're the champion?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, it feels really special and really good. It was a tough last couple of days. The hole shrunk on me a little bit it felt like. It was tough to get the ball in the hole the last couple days. I had a lot of patience and just hung in there basically more than anything. It feels really good to get a win early in the season like this.

Q. Curious about the birdie at 8, if you can describe that and how big that one was.

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, that was a huge birdie. After bogeying 6, I really gave two shots away at 5 and 6, and going down 7, I'm like, you know, we're all right I knew I still had a couple shot lead if I could make a couple birdies out of the next two and turn at 1 under. I hit a good shot in there at 7, didn't make the putt, and then hit another nice one in there at 8, which was a 5 iron. That got me a little bit more settled down because that's been a tough hole this week. I hit it in the hazard there the first day, three putted it yesterday. So that was a huge relief when I made that putt and then birdied No.9. So I felt like things kind of settled down there a bit.

Q. Talk about the transformation of what you were thinking standing behind the 6th green after you bogey and Jonathan is about to birdie, you're shaking your head, to get from there to saying, okay, I'm still in this, on 7.

STEVE STRICKER: You know, I was kicking myself really on the back of that green. I had just made two dumb plays. I knew that putt at 5 was going to be fast, and I ended up hitting it four or five feet past the hole. And then I should have just got that ball on the green at 6, and it's just a gnarly little area over there, when you drive it down the middle of the fairway and every ball kind of funnels right down there. The lie I thought was decent but I kind of went right underneath it and it just came out dead. I was kind of beating myself up a little bit not feeling too good about what had just happened. But then walking down 7, I always go back and forth, and walking down 7, I said, all right, we're still all right. I mean, if I would have told myself early in the week, if I have a two shot lead going down the 7th hole in the last round, I would take it. So I kind of tried to reverse it a little bit and make myself feel good.

Q. It's kind of hard to do, though.

STEVE STRICKER: It is hard to do. No momentum, and that's the way it was yesterday, too. But I also know this is the way I typically play this course, too. Over the years I've kind of treaded water on the front and then I've usually played pretty well on the back. So I just knew there was birdie holes out there, and I also kept telling myself, if I shoot 3 under today, Jonathan Byrd is going to have to shoot 7-under, or Martin Laird or Webb Simpson, whoever was five shots - actually they would have had to shoot 8 under. So I just kept telling myself, you know, I still - I'm all right. Don't worry about them. Make two or three or four birdies, and we're fine. But it's hard to do. You feel like you just want it to end and be done. But it can't.

Q. A couple things: First of all, wondering if you get used to the pressure of some leads that sort of seem to disappear for you if you look at John Deere last year, Memorial, LA, so forth, if that doesn't in a way kind of help that you're used to that, that you've been there before and maybe that's why you're patient?

STEVE STRICKER: Uh huh. I have been there before. It's not a great feeling, either. But it's - you know, it's just the nature of this our sport. If I would have made a couple putts early on, if I would have made a birdie at 5 - I hit a good shot in there at 1, left it right in the heart short, and if I could have made a couple putts early on I could have made it a little bit easier. But always, it doesn't matter if it's me or anybody else, always in the final round it gets close at some point in time. You know, it's just the nature of our game. I realize that, and I've gone through it before.

And I was comfortable today. That's what I was really proud of. I hit the ball probably the best I've hit it out of any of the days. I just didn't do some of the little things very good at times, like on 5, and then hit two good shots at 15, and I've got no play. I just tried to tap it down there and it ran eight, ten feet by, and I'm kind of kicking myself up that fairway, too. I could have a three shot lead with three to play and yet it's still only two shots, and J Byrd just hit it in there. I mean, it always seems close, and you always have to perform to get it done.

Q. Second thing is that Martin was in here and talked about maybe you being the most underrated player in the world and perhaps the best player in the world over the last three years with how many times you've won. Where do you feel you fit into that scenario?

STEVE STRICKER: You're asking the wrong guy.

Q. What do you feel like?

STEVE STRICKER: You know, I feel good. I just try to do my own thing. I tried to compare myself to guys when I was playing well back in the mid '90s when I was playing well, and you know, I got into some bad things. I'm happy the way - with what I do. Jimmy, my caddie, says, do what you do, or let's just do what we do. And I think that sums it up the best. We just go about and do our thing. It may not be the flashiest thing at times, but I do other things well. I chip and putt well, I'm driving the ball well. So I mean, it's -everybody has got a little bit different game, and that's the way I just kind of look at mine and do the things that we know how to do the best.

Q. When you had your neck problems a few months ago, did it ever creep in your mind at all, even for just maybe a second, that, hey, I'm 40, maybe I can't get over this, or did you have any doubts at all that you'd get back to where you are right now?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I mean, there's always questions, I guess. Back in Chicago at the BMW Championship, I didn't know what was going on. I mean, my arm felt awful. I had no strength. It felt tired, didn't feel like it really wanted to move. I just felt like it wanted to just sit there. And I didn't know what was going to happen. You know, and I still don't know. I'm continuing to try to do maintenance on it, and hopefully - I don't want to have surgery. I don't think at this point I need it. I'm just going to go ahead and try to do this maintenance that I've been doing the last couple of months and see if that'll remedy the problem. And it's been better, and my strength is better. I've got a couple cortisone shots I think that have helped quite a bit. But from what my physical therapist says, it's just something that I need to stay on, be on top of it all the time. So that's what I'm trying to do.

Q. With a couple close calls here in the past, how satisfying is today? And the second part of that question, after what happened yesterday with your five stroke lead down to one and then back to five by the end of the round, did that kind of give you some confidence as the round was in mid swing today?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, you know, I suppose going through what I went through yesterday helped a little bit, knowing that I bounced back after yesterday's kind of birdie-less front nine there. But yeah, still, when you're put in that situation, it's an uncomfortable situation. When you start to lose your lead and see everybody playing well - I'm watching the board. I want to know where everybody is at, and I see what they're doing. But that little stretch at 8 and 9 really kind of calmed me down a little bit. And that I think was the difference today.

Q. Just curious if the girls asked you to book their flights for next year already.

STEVE STRICKER: They already said we're glad we're coming back, so they're looking forward to it and so am I. It's a great place to start.

Q. When did you have the second shot, the second cortisone shot? Do you remember the date?

STEVE STRICKER: It was the week before - it was the week of Christmas. Christmas was on a Sunday, right? It was like Tuesday or Wednesday of that week.

Q. So it would be like the 21st?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, somewhere in there.

Q. What was the condition at that time that you felt you had to have it? Were you starting to go backwards a little bit or did your doctor just recommend it kind of as I guess a booster shot?

STEVE STRICKER: Yep, they kind of just said because I had one maybe about eight weeks prior to that, and they thought it would be a good idea along with the PT work that I've been doing to get this cortisone shot to see if there was any inflammation there, to try to reduce that to help in therapy. And it did, and it has happened. And I think the combination of the two things that I've been doing has helped a lot.

Q. When you first started soliciting advice from doctors, could you say how close you came to considering surgery?

STEVE STRICKER: Well, the first doctor I talked to, he's from Wisconsin, a well-known and a good doctor. I was very close because he says you could probably have surgery and be ready to play in the Presidents Cup. So I'm like, really? And then I started talking to everybody else, and they're like, just wait a second. And I got so much support and information from players and other athletes that kind of helped in my decision making. It kind of put a little hold on the surgery part of it. But it really feels good, it really does. I want to emphasize that. It really feels good at this time, and hopefully it continues.

Q. What's the best piece of advice you got?

STEVE STRICKER: You know, I don't know. I think from Tom LaFountain of the PGA Tour staff, he's a therapist in the trailers, and he was with me over at the - he told me to get a game plan together. When I go home have somebody there that does the same thing as when I'm getting treatment here on Tour. So that's what I've done. And I think that's been the best advice that I've gotten.

Q. And lastly, I just wanted to - I was curious, when you lost in the ball mark playoff to Chopra a couple years ago, good start to the year, you never won the rest of the year, didn't get back here. Do you ever appreciate how you're not here until you're here if you know what I mean?

STEVE STRICKER: No doubt about it.

Q. Secondly, I wonder if you could tell that story when you were in your down years about Bobbi coming home with that little nine hole tournament?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, you're right. I mean, you really appreciate being here once you come here. You know, it's too bad that everybody isn't here, because this tournament, the state of Hawaii deserves to have really - and Hyundai, deserves to have everybody here from last year. But it is a special place. And after getting here, after Christmas, you realize how important that win is the previous year so you can start here. But my daughter, this was quite a few years ago, shoot, she had to be maybe, I don't know, seven or eight, and she played in a par 3 competition, and she ended up winning it. Actually, no, I was gone. I think she told the story to Nicki. It was a three hole tournament at Cherokee, our home course, and she won the three hole tournament, and she's like I think she was even younger. She was either like six or seven, and she's like, "Mom, do we get to go to Hawaii now?" So it's always been a very special place for them, and they love coming here, and we had family friends here the last couple years, so it's really kind of a special time and a great place to start the year.

Q. Which part of your neck is it?

STEVE STRICKER: C6-7.

Q. And that's where they put the shot in?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, they go in through the front.

Q. Is this the type of day as a younger player without the seasoning and experience that could have got away from you?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I think so. I think you're able to lose your patience much more at a younger age, I think, and just kind of - not give up, but just feel like it's not going to go your way. Believe me, I've felt like that at times, but you've just got to keep hanging in there. I've been through this enough, and I've had some wins recently where I have the confidence knowing that I can come back and I can make a shot when I have to or make a putt. So I just keep telling myself good things. Even though I sat on the back of the 6th green beating myself up, I still try to flip it around and try to tell myself that it's okay, we're still leading, and let's go and make a couple of birdies. It's hard. It's a challenge, but it's worth it, especially when it works out at the end.

Q. Following up on that, this is your eighth or ninth win now in your 40s?

STEVE STRICKER: Ninth.

Q. What's sort of the success or the key that's come here?

STEVE STRICKER: I don't know. I put a lot of time in revamping my swing back at the end of '05, and it's just been a progression. And some good things have happened to me along the way. I've got confidence that I can play well, and winning helps with that confidence, obviously. It's been a process. I still feel like my skills are just as good as they were two, three years ago. So I come each year still with that confidence from the year before, and I feel like I can still compete.

Q. What's the most important shot you hit on the back nine today?

STEVE STRICKER: You know, they were all - probably that 6 iron I hit at 17. 16, 17. The sand wedge, I was up there, I watched J-Byrd's shot come in there at 16, he hit it in there maybe six, seven feet above the hole, and I know I've got to give myself a birdie putt at it, and then I hit it in there to a foot. That was very important. And then that 6 iron probably at 17. You know, I hit it right back there and gave myself a good birdie putt at it. Didn't make it, but I just couldn't afford a bogey there at that time. I hit a real good 6-iron.

Q. We talked a little bit about this after your 63: Was there some unfinished business on this course for you that you sort of finished today?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, yeah. You know, I've been close here a few times, a playoff, and then last year tied for the lead with J-Byrd going into the last round and not playing very well. Yeah, so I felt like I wanted to win, you know, and I told my wife early, before even coming over here, that it would be nice to win one of these events. So it's good. It's a good way to start the year when you can win the first one.

Q. How should the opinion be weighted more towards you, the fact that you have had a habit lately of having big leads and making it tough on yourself or the resiliency to win?

STEVE STRICKER: Or getting the big leads?

Q. It was a three-part question then. I asked this question of Ernie a couple years ago, as well. He would get the lead and make it more exciting than it needed to be, but he still won. What do you take from all that?

STEVE STRICKER: You know, I don't know. All I keep telling people when they ask that, it's difficult to win, or I find it very difficult to win. Whether you have a big lead or one shot or are behind, everybody is so good and they come out firing. I mean, they're going to - they've got really nothing to lose and I've got everything to lose at that point. But I was - I hit it better today than I have at other big lead times or times that I've had other big leads. John Deere I kind of struggled a little bit. Today I actually played well and hit it well all the way around. It's just I didn't get the ball in the hole at times. So I don't know. To answer your question, I'm happy that I get off to those big leads. I'm not so happy that I let everybody back in, but yet I'm happy that I've been able to finish them off. So I gave you three answers.

MODERATOR: Steve Stricker, congratulations, winner of the 2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

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