Can you picture the smile on my face? I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I'm a little bit giddy about seeing Steve Stricker hoisting the trophy at the Northern Trust Open (and seeing the "What's in Steve Stricker's Bag"!!).
As I gave him a standing ovation in my living room Sunday afternoon, I couldn't help but think back to some of the commentary, or lack of commentary, about arguably the nicest guy on the PGA Tour at the end of last year. For those that didn't pay attention, Steve Stricker had a GREAT 2009 season!
Three PGA Tour wins (the Crowne Plaza @ Colonial, the John Deere Classic, and the Deutsche Bank Championship), second on the PGA Tour money list, third on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) (with a few weeks at #2!), a fantastic performance at the President's Cup, and a nice win at the Shark Shootout in November (wth fellow Wisconsinite Jerry Kelly). Here's a guy that deserves to be called an A-lister!
As it happens each year, golf writers and bloggers give us their annual "year in review"...I wondered, with a little excitement, what people would say about Stricker. I realize most folks maybe don't adore Stricks like I do, but humble, kind, and talented guy with a wedge (and even more talented with a putter!) had a noteworthy season!
To my utter shock, I found that most of the year-end reviews I read made no mention of the Wisconsin native and University of Illinois graduate who made a great run at the FedEx Cup and earned over $6.3 million dollars. WHAT???
Matthew Adams, who posts articles here on Tees2Greens, was the guy that tipped me over the edge. Most of what he touched on were highlights for me (although I could have done without the "Tiger count" of victories, yeah we get that already), but when I got to the end and saw nothing resembling Steve or Stricker, I was irked.
My mood did not improve as I went out on the web and read a few more 2009 summaries. Watson? Yes, the Open was memorable. Kenny Perry? Agreed...victory snatched away. Phil? A great end to the season. The "young guns"? Um, a little more bark than bite for me so far. YE Yang? Yep, I'll go with the David and Goliath analogy. And finally, Tiger, 6 wins and loss at the PGA...and then Thanksgiving? Uh huh, he's definitely a newsmaker.
Yes, all of those things were interesting, but there's still plenty of room for Stricker!! How could he get passed over again and again?
There was still hope...I figured at least Sam Johnson might give him a line or two, but noooo...
I shared my irritation with him regarding the Stricker omission, and here was his response, "I don't hate Steve Stricker, I just never think about him. For some reason I'm always surprised when I look up and he's close to the top of the leader board." Oh yeah, and he gave him "The Almost Award".
But then it hit me...people of character, humility, and honor find their strength not in the fluff of accolades or headlines, but in the depths of struggle and the reward for perseverance. Steve Stricker has experienced both and is a better golfer because of it...in fact, he's one of the BEST golfers because of it.
Steve Stricker doesn't need me to defend him or his game, and I'm pretty sure being on anyone's Top Ten lists is of little consequence to him, so I will officially pack away my bitterness that he was not given enough credit for his accomplishments in 2009.
But since I'm here, I might as well take a few moments to let you know that besides a great 2009 season, he has come out in 2010 with 3 starts and 3 top 10 finishes (including the win this past Sunday!). AND he has reclaimed the #2 spot on the OWGR!! He's a Titliest guy (with several UST Shafts!) and looks really good in his FootJoys.
Stricker turned pro in 1990 after a successful college golf career. He still goes back to the University of Illinois and does a fund raising event for the golf program. He also helps raise money for worthy causes in his home state of Wisconsin.
In 2005, Stricker hit the low point of his career, landing at 337th on the OWGR and not qualifying at Q-school that December. He decided then to rebuild his golf swing and through sheer will and dedication came through in 2006 with 10 top-25 finishes in 17 starts and moved up to 63rd on the OWGR.
And then in 2007 he built on that success and ended the season ranked 4th in the world. He was honored with Comeback Player of the Year in both 2006 and 2007. In 2008, Stricker dropped to the 17th ranked player in the world, but still earned over $2.4 million.
With 5 top 10 finishes in his first 11 starts in 2009, Stricker came through with the first of 3 wins at Colonial in May, and he's been riding that wave ever since. And I have loved every moment of it!
There is always a seat on the Steve Stricker fan bus, so feel free to jump on board!! And if you're looking for him, check the top of the leader board.