LA QUINTA, Calif. – All Steve Stricker was trying to do last fall was trim branches from a tree so they wouldn’t interfere with his line of sight from the deer stand he uses during hunting season.
All the Madison golfer did was hurt his elbow so strangely, but so painfully, that he could barely lift a water bottle let alone swing a golf club. Plans he had to play one or two of the fall series events on the PGA Tour’s wrap-around season were scrapped as were thoughts of returning to the PGA Tour Champions and playing in the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs for the first time.
“I couldn’t pick up a club; I couldn’t even lift it off the ground,” the 52-year-old Stricker revealed Friday after struggling to a second-round 73 at The American Express and falling 61 spots into a tie for 110th place at 2-under 142. This is his first start of the 2020 season after dealing with the elbow injury that resulted from his tree-trimming and required him to get a platelet-rich plasma treatment.
“After those two days (sawing branches), I got a couple of MRIs on it. I tore a little tendon in there – which isn’t that big a deal. I just inflamed it to the point where it was barking at me and I couldn’t get rid of the pain. That’s why I haven’t played (since July).”
Well, as it turns out, that was just one of the reasons.
Shortly after winning the U.S. Senior Open at the end of June, Stricker started experiencing hip pain. He figured it was just another sign of age catching up to him, so he responded by upping his commitment to working out, which is when his elbow flared up as he was doing arm curls.
“It burned about 10 times in a row,” he said. “I’m like ‘OK, I’m not going to do that anymore.’ And then I went and sawed some trees for two days and I was done. I didn’t pick up a club for a month. I‘d go and try to pick it up again and couldn’t do it. It just shot the pain up my arm.”
It got so bad that Stricker consulted with fellow Madison golfer Jerry Kelly, who hurt his elbow toward the end of 2018 after trying to play through a knee injury at the end of that season.
“I talked to him and I’m like ‘I can’t do anything,’” Stricker said. “I can’t even pick up a water bottle off the table. He’s like ‘It can be debilitating.’ And that’s where I was. I went over Thanksgiving down to Florida and tried to play a few times and it was marginal at best.”
Stricker said it would take him five or six holes just to feel comfortable executing shots due to the pain in his left elbow. The PRP treatments appear to have helped, but it took more than 27 holes this week struggling with iron play he described as “mediocre; awful at times” for Stricker to see positive signs late in Friday’s round to suggest the worst is behind him, prompting him to officially commit to next week’s Farmers Insurance Open near San Diego.
“Like I said, I was starting to swing at it with some speed again,” said Stricker, who will move to the tough Stadium Course at PGA West for Saturday’s third round. “So that’s encouraging.”
Turcott to the rescue
Sepp Straka hadn’t played the back nine of the Stadium Course at PGA West this week before playing it Friday on the back end of a bogey-free, 7-under 65 that boosted him into a tie for 12th place at 10-under 134, five shots behind co-leaders Rickie Fowler and Scottie Scheffler.
Afterward, the former University of Georgia golfer credited caddie Jon Turcott, a two-time Wisconsin State Open champion from Middleton, for doing the homework on the closing nine.
“That was all him,” Straka said after birdieing two of his last three holes, capped by a 12-footer on the par-4 18th hole. “I didn’t know where to hit it. It was all ‘Turkey.’ ”
Can’t beat the weather
It was another Chamber of Commerce day in the Coachella Valley with temperatures in the upper 60s, a sunny sky and barely a hint of wind most of the day.
It was a stark contrast to Wisconsin, where Turcott said his wife Christie was ready for the snow moving into the Waunakee area. “She filled up the gas tank, with a spare right next to it,” Jon Turcott joked. “She knows how to work the (snow)blower. She’s a girl from the north.”
Crossing the tees
Turcott wasn’t the only Wisconsin native looping for a golfer climbing the leaderboard. Former UW-Stout golfer and Menomonie native Steve Dahlby, a teaching professional at Phoenix Country Club, was on the bag for pupil Troy Merritt, whose 4-under 68 at La Quinta Country Club moved him into a tie for 68th place at 5-under 139. ... Tournament host Phil Mickelson was tied with Stricker at 2-under 142 after shooting 72 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course.