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Stricker Talks about John Deere Classic & Tiger's Return to Form
Steve Stricker already has his sights set on the John Deere Classic. Though he's still got a few tournaments to play - including the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in two weeks - and the Deere is not set to start until July 12, the $4.6 million event has a warm place in the Wisconsinite's heart as he's already won the tournament three straight times.
After closing with a 64 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., in the final round of the 2009 Deere to win by three strokes over Zach Johnson, Brett Quigley and Brandt Snedeker, Stricker successfully defended the following year after posting rounds of 60, 66, 62 and 70 to finish at 26-under 258, two shots ahead of Paul Goydos, who carded a Tour record-tying 59 in the first round.
Stricker three-peated in 2011, closing with a 69 to edge Kyle Stanley by a shot. So the 45-year-old, 12-time Tour winner will be shooting for the "Stricker Slam" next month. If Stricker can pull off his fourth consecutive Deere title, he'll match the all-time mark of four straight victories in the same tournament set by a quartet of greats: Young Tom Morris in the British Open from 1868-70 and 1872 (no tournament was held in 1871); Walter Hagen's victories between 1924 and '27 in the PGA Championship; Gene Sarazen's four straight in the Miami Open in 1926 (no event in '27) and 1928-30; and Tiger Woods' victories from 2000-03 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Buick Invitational from 2005-08.
During a media day, Stricker discussed his chances to make history in the John Deere Classic. He also touched on other subjects, including Woods' spectacular play Sunday to win the Memorial Tournament for the fifth time (including a run of three straight between 1999 and 2001) and tie Jack Nicklaus for second on the all-time victory list with 73 titles (Sam Snead still leads with 82). Here's what Stricker had to tell the reporters.
Q. Tiger seems to be back. Is that good for the Tour?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, very good for the Tour. You know, I opened up the USA Today, he's on the front page of the sports page. It brings so much attention to our sport, our game. It's definitely a good thing he's playing well. Obviously his confidence level is going up. His game's getting better. Yeah, it's good for our Tour.
Q. You talked a little bit about Olympic Club, a place you're looking forward to jump start your game a little bit.
STEVE STRICKER: I've had a good year so far except for the last month. Just not really what I expect. I'm not playing poorly, it's just I'm not getting the ball in the hole. Olympic would be the great place to get it going. Huge Ryder Cup points there. Have not won a major. It would be fun to get in the mix of that and try to win one.
Q. Your stroke never changes, so is it a feel thing with the putter?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't know what it is. I've been messing around with my setup. I feel my setup has gotten off a little bit, ball position. Grip pressure, I've been messing with that, too. My stroke really doesn't change. It's been something pretty small, I think. Then it affects your confidence a little bit. Then your focus is thinking about the wrong thing. You're thinking about your stroke instead of trying to think about the line, where you want the ball to start, the speed, all the stuff you need to be thinking about. I've gone through periods like this before through my career, everybody does. It's just getting it back on track.
Q. How endearing has this community been to you here?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, it's a special place. The community has adopted me, I guess. They come out, give me a tremendous amount of support. I get a lot of support during the week of the tournament. Yeah, it's a lot of fun to come back. I have a lot of family and friends from Wisconsin and Illinois where I went to school. It's a good week, one I look forward to every year.
Q. You've spoken about connecting with communities, charities. FCA is going to have a game day. How important are moments like that?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, very important. I mean, when you can express your faith and get people together, get out on the golf course for a good day of golf, talk about your faith or whatever, it's always important. I'm a Christian. I wouldn't proclaim it around the world, but I believe in God, do the things, go to church. My kids are active in church. So, yeah, it's important. It's the way things should be, I think.
Q. How does that affect your game on the course, God's principles, things like that.
STEVE STRICKER: I mean, He's there in my everyday life. He's important. I'm not one to stand up and tell the world about it either. But it's important to me.
Q. You talk about that, your kids. How fun is it to get out here with these kids?
STEVE STRICKER: It's neat to see their nerves. I could tell a couple of them were nervous. It's fun to get to play around with them, meet them. Obviously if they're here, golf is somewhat important in their life, they like to do it, like to play it. It's always fun. I remember little events like this when I was growing up, too. Hopefully it's something they can grasp onto and say, Hey, I want to do this someday, work towards something, work towards a goal. You learn a lot in this game of golf. First Tee does a great job of doing that, too.
Q. Do they get an assist?
STEVE STRICKER: I watched them do it. The putt I had last year went a little to the right, this one went to the left. I got to watch a lot of putts before I made mine.
Q. You were talking about the 'Stricker Slam.' Thinking about it?
STEVE STRICKER: Thinking about it. Trying to come back here and win again, a lot of great things have happened to me here. I'm excited to come back. I look forward to it. It's a special place for me. I'm a deer hunter. To get a trophy with a deer on there, that's pretty cool. Maybe that's karma for me. But it's a special place for me here.
Q. What do you do with all those trophies? Everybody get an ashtray for Christmas?
STEVE STRICKER: No, they're in my office. It's one of my favorite trophies. Like I said, there's a big old deer on there. Like I say, it's a great event. They run it great. The tournament people here do a great job. A lot of volunteers. It's well supported amongst the community.
Q. You shot 60 here and did not have the low round of the day. Is this maybe the place where somebody goes under 59?
STEVE STRICKER: It could be if conditions are right. You get a day like today where there's not much wind, the greens are soft, it's possible. But you have to not miss a shot, make a lot of putts. But it's always possible. Goydos did it. He shot 59 here. There's always that possibility. It's really a testament to the fairness of the course, course condition. Still you got to hit shots here. You got to play well to score well. But the ability to score well is definitely here.
Q. You're saying one of us media guys could shoot a 58 today?
STEVE STRICKER: You guys could break it (laughter).
Q. Harder getting to top five in the world or staying there? How does the focus factor into the state of your game right now?
STEVE STRICKER: It's a challenge all the time. Don't get me wrong. I mean, I'm always trying to get better. I'm always trying to figure out what I need to do to get better. I've had a great six year run. I really haven't had too many hiccups along the way. If this is a little hiccup, so be it. I'm okay with that. Although it bothers me, I'm still going to try to work on it and get it better. It's hard to stay up there all the time, no matter who you are. You see fluctuations in games where they're at the top of the world for a while, they may slip down for a while, they'll get it back. That's the nature of the game. It's a game you need to continually work on. I do. When I go to a tournament, I want to be prepared. If I were to go on the road and not be prepared, that would be more upsetting to me than anything. I practice hard when I'm at home, get ready, try to play well when I'm out there.
Q. Guys hit their mid-40s, sometimes have trouble on the greens. Do you think about that?
STEVE STRICKER: Oh, yeah. I fart around at home, do Matt Kuchar's putting style, how he ankles them on his forearm. I may try that this week, feel what it feels like. You know, you got to try to take advantage of the rules a little bit. They offer different ways of putting, some that I'm not totally up for. Now here I am thinking about them (laughter). I'm not thinking about a long putter, but maybe different styles or a different putter, just to get a different look down there to change things up. But I haven't changed putters for, I don't know, 10 or 11 years probably. But it's kind of a mental thing right now a little bit. But once you start to see a few go in, you know, your optimism can change in a hurry.
Q. How important is it for you to break through in a major and win one?
STEVE STRICKER: It's not life or death. Obviously I'm 45, so that window of opportunity is dwindling. Nicklaus won when he was 46. Holy cow, how can he win when he's 46? I haven't won a major yet. He won 17 up to that point. I realize where I'm at. I also realize I've played some great golf over the last five, six 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. I enjoy the U.S. Open. It's a huge challenge. Hopefully I can get things going.
Q. How do you think the club fits your game?
STEVE STRICKER: I like it. I liked it from when we first saw it in college. I finished fifth in '98. I must have played it okay. So I'm looking forward to it. But it's always a tough challenge. That's what's fun going there. You know it's going to be difficult when you go there.
Q. Have you ever thought about getting your hat into the golf design field?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, thought about it. Had some opportunities maybe along the way. Some fell through. I wasn't quite ready to do some. Still wanted to concentrate on golf. This stuff can take a lot of time, change your focus away from what I'm really trying to do. I'm cautious on getting into that. And really the state of golf is not in a really good spot for a development right now. That's kind of been put on hold for a lot of course designers. So I'm really not looking at it in the near future at all. Someday it would be fun to do a redo or a course of some sort.
Q. What is your schedule between now and July 12th?
STEVE STRICKER: AT&T, Tiger's event at Congressional.
Q. (No microphone.)
STEVE STRICKER: One hole there.
Q. And they took out a tree?
STEVE STRICKER: It was a big, beautiful oak tree. They had the hole going away from the water. I could have used the water, go around the water. There was an oak tree around the corner. All of a sudden I come back, the oak tree is gone. They lost this big oak on the corner. Yeah, that was quite a few years ago.
Q. Can I ask you about the Heroes for Kids? Is that gaining traction? Open to the public this year.
STEVE STRICKER: I don't know, to tell you the truth. I haven't heard much about it. I couldn't even tell you the date of it.
Q. End of July.
STEVE STRICKER: Is it? But they did a great job with it last year. Raised a lot of money. Two and a quarter, something like that. That's a big number for the first year, I think.
Q. They're opening it up to spectators this year.
STEVE STRICKER: Cool, good.
Q. You said the tournament has made quite a big deal already (indiscernible.)
STEVE STRICKER: Well, it's a unique opportunity. It's hard to do. It's hard to repeat, let alone win for the third time, I guess. But I've had some special moments here. I look forward to trying. It's going to be difficult as ever, believe me. Just to win a golf tournament is hard, let alone four times in a row. But I'm excited about the challenge, excited about the opportunity to try to do it. It would be a lot of fun. The anticipation for me obviously is there already. I think about it - I thought about it at the beginning of the year. Even though I haven't committed yet, I will be here. (Laughter.)
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I do that probably on a weekly basis. I just heard it again last week from one of my playing partners. It was Pat Perez, who's like how did you do that, how did you get it on the green, how did you make the putt? So I hear that quite a bit. It's a special time in my career for doing something like that, to kind of come through and do something in the clutch when you have to. That's something, that shot, I'll remember forever.
Q. Explain why you've played well here, and how much of a factor is it that it's kind of home turf, if you will?
STEVE STRICKER: You know, I don't know what it is. I mean, it's Midwest. It's the type of golf course that I've grown up on. I can drive from home. It's comfortable surroundings. I'm comfortable here. You know, I don't know. I enjoy the course. I enjoy coming here. I guess when you like to come to a place and you've had some success in the past and had good vibes going into the tournament, that shows a lot what it can do for your game. I look forward to it, again, and I really can't put a finger on it. Last year coming down the stretch, I thought, well, it's over. I'm kind of leaking oil, and hit it in the bunkers, buried it in the bunkers, and just not hitting the shots I needed to win, and then I ended up kind of stealing it away from Kyle Stanley. Yeah, I don't know what it is about here. I just enjoy coming here and enjoy the people and the tournament.
Q. The bunker shot, where does that rank on your list of impressive shots?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, it's the top of my list. It seems like a guy like Tiger does it when he wins every time he wins, or every other time. But for me that was a shot - it was a do or die situation. I made up my mind that I was going to try to get it back there. My caddie said, well, he thought Kyle made a double. He thought he hit it in the water, made a double. My caddie was like, why don't you just take a 7 iron and try to hit it in the short part of the green and try to get it up and down. I said, no, give me the 6, I'm going to try to get it all the way back there. I had it in my mind I was going to try to get it all the way back there. I had it in my mind to try to make 4. To make that putt was icing on the cake. Yeah, the bunker shot was the toughest shot probably out of the two. To pull it off means a lot.
STEVE STRICKER: Well, he pushed that one. (Laughter.) You know, like I say, I still get it today, and right after it happened, I got a lot of how did you do that, it was incredible, kind of stuff like that. But it was a great time. To have my family be here and witness it and be a part of it was cool, too. To win it three times in a row, to get another piece of John Deere equipment is always a good thing. And yeah, it was a pretty special week.
Q. Can you talk about the state of your game?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah. My game is not really there right now for whatever reason. I'm hitting the ball okay, not scoring all that well, not putting worth a lick. Had the last really good opportunity to win at New Orleans, just didn't make any putts. I missed the cut at the Players, again, short game, putting kind of the issue. And then hit the ball well again this last week at Memorial and made nothing again, and not even really close some of the times. So I've got some work to do in that department, which is seriously one of my strong points, and I'm really struggling with it still.
My health is good. I've been doing a lot of physical therapy on a regular basis when I'm home, so my neck feels better, my arm is feeling stronger. So I just need to work on my game a little bit. I think my health is where I need it to be, getting better on a weekly basis. I just need to start dropping a few putts. To watch a video like that, it's like, wow, let's do that again. But it's the nature of the game. You have these little bumps in the road, and it's all about getting through them, and usually when you come out of things like that you learn more about yourself, learn more about your game and come out a better player. So I'm hoping that's going to happen, and I'll continue to work on it and get ready for the next few tournaments because there's a good stretch of tournaments coming up.
STEVE STRICKER: I did. I followed it as closely as I could on my phone, texting Mike Small, the coach, congratulated him, again, for having an individual champion. I know he was just a little - he wasn't as deep as he was over the years for depth of his team, but I know he had a couple really good players, and that proved to be a point when Thomas won. I think that's two NCAA champions in three years, so that proves what Mike is capable of doing down there. He's been great for the program, has a great eye for talent, and his coaching ability - and playing ability. He still plays really good, too. It's good to see. He's put Illinois on the golfing map amongst colleges, and it's fun to be a part of it, too, and still keep in touch with Mike and the team. We have another fundraiser down there in the fall again, so it'll be good to go down there and see the kids again. But it's nice to see.
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, that's part of the coolness of coming back here because I feel like I've got two home field advantages. I get a lot of Wisconsin people coming down, family and friends, and then I get a lot of friends from Illinois, people that I recognize, people that I got to know through my college days there. So I see a lot of friendly faces during the week. It's nice to see. And I get a huge amount of support here. It's a special week. I get to see a lot of people from school. Smalley usually is around or some of his teammates are around, and it's part of the uniqueness for me, for one event out of the year, to get so much support, it's really nice.
Q. You've been able to do so much good through your charitable foundation. Talk about how important that is to you.
STEVE STRICKER: No doubt. You know, it's about giving back, and I try to do it as much as I can. I've got a couple charities that I'm involved with and have fundraisers for. One of them is down at my alma mater at Illinois, and I have another one up in Wisconsin for VSA. So it's about helping out with other players, as well. Andy North has a big one today that unfortunately, and fortunately, I haven't been able to participate in in the last three years, but usually I'd be there today. So it's about helping out and giving back to not only the ones that you believe in, the charitable causes that you're a part of, but helping other players, as well. I went down and did a little fundraiser with Jack Nicklaus about a month and a half ago, and they raised $300,000 in an afternoon luncheon. But it's engrained in golfers, I think, that part of the deal is to give back, and no one does it better than you guys right here at Quad Cities. $5.2 million is an incredible number. We've been looking into putting an event back on in Wisconsin, and we were just trying to maybe the first year - it's not going to happen, we're not going to have an event, but we were looking into it, if you could raise close to a million dollars you'd be doing really good, and here you guys are doing five times that number. It's a remarkable thing that goes on here, and it's just getting bigger and better, I think.
You know maybe one day we can get out of the States. That would probably be - I don't know how you feel about it, but maybe this deserves a better date somewhere down the road. That's always a possibility, too. I know if you do the field would probably get better and more players would come and enjoy the Midwest what the Midwest has to offer, I guess, and the hospitality that we have here.
STEVE STRICKER: I don't think they're related. I feel like I'm getting stronger, to tell you truth, and I feel like I'm hitting the ball a little bit further, hitting the ball more solidly. I don't know if it equates to my short game getting worse. I hope not. But I don't think my focus is entirely there to tell you the truth. I've been kind of daydreaming at times, not really 100 percent focused in on what I've got to do. So I think that's part to do with it, too. You know, and putting for me has always been about focus and getting into it and realizing what you're doing, and I'm trying to retrain myself again and try to figure out what I am doing up there. I hit a couple putts yesterday, I got done, and I'm like, what just happened. So trying to go through that again and see what my actions are prior to the putt and see if I can try to figure it out. I'm either hitting a great putt or missing the hole from about six feet. So not a good thing, but like I say, I'll be playing and figure it out.
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, it's a great test. It's one of my favorite courses. I got to play it in college. My coach was from the California area. Mike and I and the rest of our teammates, we were able to play that during one of our spring breaks out there in California. It's just a great, traditional, old style golf course. I think there's only one fairway bunker, and there is no water hazards, I don't think, 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, so it'll be a tough challenge. I was able to play with Lee Janzen there in the final round in '98 and got to see what it takes to win a major. He played great. Even though it was 14 years ago, I still remember a lot of what happened there. I'm looking forward to going back. I had a good finish there. I think I finished fifth there in '98, so it's a tough test but a fair test, and I'm looking forward to getting back there.
Q. What do you think Tiger learned about his game by watching you play?
STEVE STRICKER: That's a good question. I don't know if he can learn anything from me. I'm learning stuff from him all the time. Yeah, I don't know. I think it's our personalities. We get along with one another, even though our personalities are probably complete opposite. But we do a lot of similar things out on the golf course, I guess, little things. I'm not going to say - he hits it much further than I do, but the way, I think, we manage our games and go about our business out on the golf course, and when I get out there I'm all about business and trying to get it done, and so is he. But we've been able to play a lot together over the years, and we've done well except for a few in the last one we didn't do so well in. But for the most part we meshed very well together. We bounce ideas off one another, he'll ask me about putting and I'll ask him about something else. So we're not afraid to talk to one another about our games and what you're doing at the time.
Yeah, it's a good golfing relationship. We get along well on the golf course, and I think we respect one another and respect one another's golf games. But it's been a fun ride playing with him in some of those events.
Q. How important is this Ryder Cup to you?
STEVE STRICKER: I would love to make that team. I think I'm outside that number now, but I would love to be there. It's going to be a great event I have a feeling. We're back here in America, which is always fun to play in front of the home country, Chicago area, which is right down the road for me. I heard it's sold out. I heard the Chicago area, the people coming there, there's going to be a lot of enthusiasm let's say. I would love to be a part of that and try to get that Cup back again because I was on a team that lost it. It would be fun to be a part of that and try to get it back. Guys, thanks for having me. Have fun today.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.