MILWAUKEE — After the formal news conference in which Steve Stricker was introduced as the U.S. Ryder Cup captain for the 2020 matches at Whistling Straits, the Madison golfer conducted an interview with a few members of the media Wednesday.
Here is a transcript from that session:
Q: How many reconnaissance missions are you going to make to Whistling Straits? And will there be any rough?
Stricker: “I’ll be up there as much as I can and get it planned out, check on it. That’s the nice part of doing it at home, or a couple hours away – I can get up there as much as I want to or need to be. About the rough, I don’t know. We’ll take a look at what’s worked for us in the past. Probably it won’t be like Paris, I’ll put it like that. It’s not going to be tight with heavy rough. We’ll look back at some of the Ryder Cups where we’ve had success and plan accordingly.”
Q: (PGA of America President) Suzy Whaley called you to give you the news in December. Where were you when you got the call? Were you emotional? Were you Christmas shopping?
Stricker: “I was actually in a car with my brother-in-law Mario (Tiziani). We were playing in a pro-scratch event out in the desert, in Palm Springs. I think we had finished for the day and we were on our way back to the hotel. I got the call from Suzy. Yeah, I got a little bit emotional.”
Q: How hard was it over the last couple months, as you got asked about it, to keep saying, “I haven’t heard anything yet.”?
Stricker: “It was hard to keep pushing it off. I’m hoping that’s why I haven’t been making some putts lately, because I’ve had this on my mind. I’m glad it’s done. I’m glad it’s off my chest and we can move forward now and keep planning. It’s still a long way away. But I’m excited to get this part announced and done with.”
Q: How important is it at this point in your career – to have been in these major events in Wisconsin, getting in the 2015 PGA, fighting your way through qualifying to get to Erin Hills (for the 2017 U.S. Open) – and now being picked to be captain of this Ryder Cup team?
Stricker: “It means a lot. I love playing here. I love coming into my backyard, my home state, and playing in front of family and friends. I’ve received so much support from people here over the years. It’s really cool to get that response and play in front of them. And now I’ll get to captain this team in my home state. You can’t script it any better.”
Q: Have you had any calls or text messages from players who are likely candidates to be on your team?
Stricker: “I’ve gotten a few already. J.T. (Justin Thomas) just texted me. There’s been other guys, too. Tiger (Woods). There’s been quite a few already. I look forward to having some of those guys on the team. Like I said, I’ve got a lot of golf to watch over 19 months to see who’s playing well and who fits into the team.”
Q: You’ve seen how this has affected other captains’ games and I know you want to continue to play a lot. How are you going to not let this be a distraction, so you can focus on your own game?
Stricker: “That’s what I’ll have to work on. I don’t think I’ve done that very well the last couple of months, getting ready for this day. I’ve got to buckle down and get things in order and make sure that I’m still able to get out there and play some. But as we get closer to the Ryder Cup, playing will become secondary. (The captaincy) will be at the forefront next year, most of the year, which I expect. If you’re going to do it right and do it well, then you’ve got to put the time and effort into it, so golf will take a back seat for a little while. But I’ll still continue to play. I want to see the guys out there when I do go play. That will be part of my gig, too, to go out there and see how those guys are doing, how they’re playing, play practice rounds with them, talk to them and communicate with them.”
Q: How much does the Ryder Cup showcase what a great golf state Wisconsin has become?
Stricker: “For sure. Golf in Wisconsin has always been strong, it just wasn’t known. We’ve always had a lot of great golf courses but then when Herb (V. Kohler Jr.) comes in and the Kohler family, they put together that masterpiece up there at Whistling Straits, the Irish Course, the Blackwolf Run courses, that kind of put us on the map. Then we get a PGA championship or (three) of them and now the Ryder Cup was announced years ago. Erin Hills. Sand Valley. Golf is a destination all of a sudden in Wisconsin. That’s cool to see. We owe a lot to the Kohler family and what they did to get it started.”
Q: Have you looked back to see what hasn’t worked in previous Ryder Cups, or is it more about the teams you were a part of that won the Ryder Cup? What do you think you’ll draw more from?
Stricker: “I think what works. I try to always look at the positive side of things. Obviously, you learn from your mistakes. Sometimes, you learn more from your mistakes than anything. There haven’t been a lot of mistakes, I don’t feel like, on the teams I’ve been a part of. I’ll learn from the good things we’ve done and apply those. I’m not changing too much. It’s all about keeping this continuity, this consistency going. We’ve just got to play a little bit better. It’s competition. Somebody’s got to win and lose.”
Q: You’ve had a lot of great things happen to you in your career. Is this the highlight?
Stricker: “Yeah, this is the highlight of my career, probably. But you know what, that AmFam Championship event that we put on in Madison, being able to raise a couple million dollars for our foundation and be able to give that away is pretty special, too. But being captain of a U.S. team here in Wisconsin, my backyard, is really special and probably the top of the list.”
Q: Your calm demeanor seems to help as a captain but that first tee at the Ryder Cup, can you even describe and put into words what it’s like and how you’re going to get guys to handle that?
Stricker: “Guys know how to handle that. They’ve been there for the most part unless they’re a rookie and it’s their first team. They know what it’s all about. They play golf at a high level. They’ve played majors. Augusta National is another event that you’ve got to calm your nerves down and anticipate that first tee shot and all that kind of stuff. So, guys kind of prepare, but not until you get there do you really realize what that atmosphere’s all about. I may show them some video. Some guys have been a part of it; Hazeltine was unbelievable. But they know what it’s about.”
Q: Do you have a philosophy on captain’s picks and how you’ll approach that?
Stricker: “I’ll rely on my assistant captains a lot. We’ll talk about them. We’ll see who’s playing well. Obviously, you want a guy who’s playing well. But I think with this opportunity of three weeks off in between the cutoff of points and the actual Ryder Cup, you’re able to pick somebody that maybe isn’t in the greatest of form because in three weeks a lot of things can change. So, that may open up a few more players in the scenario, and maybe pick a guy that’s a little more suited for team play and for the course.”
Q: Everybody is going to be under pressure and especially you. Have you thought about how it might compare with some of the situations you’ve had in your career? Is it a different kind of pressure?
Stricker: “I won’t have to concentrate on playing, which will be a lot off my plate, for one. The other thing is, I’m in charge of everything but you’ve got all these great vice captains that I’ll pick at some point that are there to help. Everybody’s very helpful. But it all falls on me. That’s the good and the bad of being the captain. But I’m excited for that challenge. I really am. I’ll put everything into it, and I’m excited to do it.”