Column: Stricker busy as ever with hard work still to come

Golf

Few players are keeping a busier schedule than Steve Stricker, and he still has five months to go before he captains the American team in the Ryder Cup.

It’s never far from his thoughts, even with so much on his plate.

Take last week, for example. Stricker decided to move from his winter home in Naples, Florida, and it sold so quickly that he and wife Nicki had to pack up and move out. That ordinarily would not have been a problem, except that Stricker was in the middle of playing the Chubb Classic on the PGA Tour Champions.

”Golf was the calming part,” he said Tuesday. ”We were packing this pod we had in the driveway, and then we’d get in the car to go to the course. It was interesting. I didn’t even think about golf when we were at the house.”

Maybe he should try that more often. Stricker closed with a 5-under 67 and held off a pack that included Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples for a one-shot victory, his sixth PGA Tour Champions title.

Then it was back to his permanent home in Wisconsin. He spoke Tuesday while making the two-hour drive to Whistling Straits to inspect changes to the Ryder Cup course.

The course is still closed, even with green grass for what Stricker described as an early spring in Wisconsin. He didn’t mention the nature of the changes except to say it was ”nothing huge.” The purpose was to make sure it was coming together, and a rare week at home afforded him some time.

Then it’s off to Ohio this weekend where his oldest daughter, Bobbi Maria, is playing for Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. From there, the 54-year-old Stricker will head back to Florida for the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour and a chance to split duties.

He wants to keep an eye on U.S. players who might be playing for him in September at Whistling Straits. He also wants to play well for himself so he can keep playing in August. Stricker wants to make the PGA Tour postseason one last time. In only eight PGA Tour starts, he is No. 124 in the FedEx Cup.

As for his team, Stricker is watching and waiting, equal parts.

Six players will qualify on their own. Still to come are three major championships and two FedEx Cup playoff events before qualifying ends. And then after the Tour Championship, Stricker will add the other six.

That’s a long way off, though every week the list seems to get longer.

Stewart Cink won at Hilton Head for his second PGA Tour title this season. At age 47, he is the oldest player to win multiple times in a season since 48-year-old Kenny Perry in 2009. Is he in the mix to return to the Ryder Cup as a player for the first time since 2010?

Jordan Spieth is back in the mix. He has top-4 finishes in five of his last eight tournaments, including a win in the Texas Open and a tie for third in the Masters.

And then there’s Will Zalatoris, already being talking about as a Ryder Cup player even though he still doesn’t have a full PGA Tour card. With his runner-up finish at the Masters, where the 24-year-old showed plenty of moxie without a bungle of nerves, Zalatoris is No. 28 in the world.

He received a silver medal as the runner-up and a few text messages from the Ryder Cup captain.

”I’ve never met him,” Stricker said. ”I’ll probably play a practice round with him somewhere soon. He’s a kid that could potentially be on the team.”

That could be said for a lot of players. In the two years and two months since Stricker was appointed captain, there has been no shortage of suggestions.

That was particularly true at the Match Play last month, won by Billy Horschel, who has never played on a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup team. It wasn’t just Horschel. Based on the commentary and social media, it seems any player who won a match was deemed a Ryder Cup prospect. There’s room for only 12.

”You drive yourself crazy if you start listening,” Stricker said.

All he has to do is think back to the last Ryder Cup, held outside Paris in 2018, when he was an assistant to Jim Furyk and Europe won for sixth straight time on home soil. Stricker will have to decide between players best suited for Whistling Straits and those who are playing well.

Even then, what matters is how they perform over three days.

”I’m responsible for a lot of things, and I want to make sure I get it right,” Stricker said. ”For me, it’s about the golf. It’s not about the fluff. My whole goal is to make sure we have the right team and we’re prepared to play.”

Stricker was a Ryder Cup assistant captain the last three times – one home victory, two road losses – and the winning Presidents Cup captain in 2017. He was impressed with Furyk – ”There wasn’t one thing he didn’t do right,” he said – except that the Americans didn’t play well, or Europe played better.

”It was beautiful except we didn’t win,” Stricker. ”That’s the most important part. That’s what we remember.”

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