Years come and go with a greater velocity for Steve Stricker these days and the Madison golfer packed so much into the first nine months of 2017, he figured it was a good time for a break.
Stricker confirmed Tuesday that he will skip the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs as he continues to re-charge his 50-year-old battery that was put to the test this year like never before.
A successful debut on the PGA Tour Champions. A relentless pursuit to earn a spot in the U.S. Open in his home state at Erin Hills near Milwaukee after the USGA declined his request for an exemption. A triumphant captaincy at the Presidents Cup, where his U.S. squad came within a half-point of clinching victory Saturday and eventually dispatched the International team 19-11.
“I always look forward to this time of year, having a good couple of months off,” Stricker said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “To tell you the truth, the Presidents Cup took a lot out of me. I was pretty beat-up the week after. I had plans on going to play in North Carolina on the (PGA Tour) Champions. I just had no energy, no desire to pick up a club and start practicing.”
In fact, until he took advantage of a 70-degree day Tuesday in Madison, he hadn’t been on a golf course since leaving Liberty National in New Jersey after the Presidents Cup celebration wound to a close. At No. 32 on the Charles Schwab Cup money list, Stricker might have been eligible into the playoff finale in three weeks at Phoenix CC (the top 36 golfers are eligible), but one of golf’s most avid hunters wasn’t ready to come out of the woods and tee it up quite yet.
“I was like, ‘Let’s just shut ‘er down,’” said Stricker, who is toying with playing in RSM Classic, hosted by Davis Love III, on the PGA Tour in late November and has committed to the Shark Shootout, although without long-time partner Jerry Kelly of Madison, in early December.
Despite great success on the PGA Tour Champions -- Stricker posted five top-10 finishes in six starts -- and hosting an event of his own in the American Family Insurance Championship, his focus going into 2018 will be on the PGA Tour, where he has competed full-time since 1994.
“I still feel young as it relates to golf,” said Stricker, who -- at No. 83 in the Official World Golf Ranking -- has his sights set on cracking the top 50 so he can become eligible for the World Golf Championship events as well as the four major championships. “I kind of want to give it one more go-around next year and see if I can a few good tournaments to start the year and … get into some of those events and give it one more whack. I played in all of (the majors) this year, made the cut in all of them and did alright; just not well enough to get back in any of them.
“I still feel like I have something to prove out there. I guess that’s why I’m sticking around.”
Stricker’s quest to qualify for the U.S. Open -- the one major for which he wasn’t exempt -- will go down as one of the indelible moments from an unforgettable 2017 for the Edgerton native.
Shunned by the USGA after a written request for a special exemption, Stricker set out to play his way into the field at Erin Hills. His quest ultimately took him to the 36-hole sectional qualifier in Memphis, where he shot 67-66 and won the event, which featured 108 golfers competing for eight spots in the U.S. Open, where Stricker shot 69-69 on the weekend and tied for 16th.
“Basically, they told me we’re not going to give you a spot even though we think you would enhance the tournament,” Stricker said. “I kind of scratched my head there a little bit. It was a motivating factor to get in and then to play decently was even more of a bonus. That was a memorable tournament, probably one of my most fun tournaments to play in -- ever.”
Looking back, Stricker will remember 2017 as a year in which he was always proving himself.
At the start of the year, he proved he could be a force on the PGA Tour Champions -- nearly winning in his debut at the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, finishing second to Tom Lehman. The middle of the year was about proving he still could still compete on golf’s grandest stage.
The end of the year? That was Stricker proving, as Presidents Cup captain, he could rally the next generation of golf’s rising stars to a performance so dominant it spoke well for his chances of landing the gig of Ryder Cup captain in 2020 when the matches come to Whistling Straits.
“If that happens -- 2020 in Wisconsin -- that would just blow me away to get that opportunity,” Stricker said. “I never thought I’d be a captain of any team. It just never crossed my mind until they basically asked me. You don’t want to be the guy, especially in the Presidents Cup, that loses because we’ve been on such a winning streak. It was always in the back of my mind.”
Of course, getting back to normal was always in the back of his mind, too.
Out of the chaos that has been his year, Stricker will never forget one moment that illustrated why coming home and staying home seemed like the right thing to do. They were his parting words to his oldest daughter Bobbi as he left for the Presidents Cup and as she was getting ready for a qualifying round as a redshirt freshman on the University of Wisconsin golf team.
“Well, how about shooting under par for a change?” Stricker asked his daughter rhetorically. “Well, that day, she’s 1-under going down (No.) 18 at University Ridge and makes double-bogey to shoot 73. She’s like ‘Dad, I was thinking about you all the way around and I’m 1-under with one to play. She was so (ticked) off. But she’s improved so much. I’m so proud of her.”