The longer Steve Stricker juggles his roles as PGA Tour veteran, PGA Tour Champions juggernaut, U.S. Ryder Cup captain and high school/college golf dad, the less his chaotic life seems to impact his performance inside the ropes.
The 54-year-old Madison golfer showed Sunday during the final round of the Chubb Classic in Naples, Fla., that there is still plenty of life left in his ageless golf game as he charged past second-round co-leaders Robert Karlsson and Fred Couples to win for the sixth time in 29 starts on PGA Tour Champions.
As he did all week on the Black Course at Tiburon Resort, Stricker made his move on the front nine. He played it in 3-under Sunday — and in a bogey-free 10-under for the week — to take a two-stroke lead to the back nine, where he missed two makeable birdie putts on Nos. 14 and 15 before making one from inside of three feet for the last of his five birdies in a bogey-free 67 that left him with a 54-hole total of 16-under 200. That was one better than Karlsson and Alex Cjeka, a Monday qualifier who shot 5-under 31 on the back nine Sunday en route to a 68 but missed a short birdie putt on the penultimate hole.
"It was hard-fought all the way around," said Stricker, who now has a remarkable 16 top-three finishes, 20 top-5s and 24 top-10s in his 29 appearances on the senior circuit since turning 50 in 2017.
"It's a course where you can make some birdies, but if you stray off the fairway or up around the green, it gets pretty difficult at times. I could have made it easier on myself — (I) had a couple of short putts that I wish could have made ... (on the back nine), but all-in-all, I struck the ball nicely all the way around and happy to get it done."
Playing in the next-to-last group with Bernhard Langer and Gene Sauers, Stricker birdied the par-4 second hole to pull within one of the leaders. He saved birdie from a greenside bunker on the par-5 sixth hole and two-putted for birdie on the par-5 ninth to turn in 3-under 33.
Stricker added birdies at Nos. 11 and 16 to help offset missed birdie opportunities at Nos. 15 and 18, the two par-5s on the back nine. He also made a nifty up-and-down par at the par-4 17th hole despite an awkward stance in the left greenside bunker on his third shot.
As it turned out, Stricker would need all the cushion he could get to notch his first victory since the 2019 U.S. Senior Open — just four months after he was announced as the U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
Not only did Cjeka shoot 31 on the back nine, but Tim Petrovic (65) shot 32 and Karlsson (69) shot 33 to put varying degrees of heat on Stricker. Kevin Sutherland, who sits atop the Charles Schwab Cup standings, pulled within one of Stricker after back-to-back birdies at Nos. 15 and 16, but finished par-par to end the threat.
"I was watching it the all the time; I like to know where I'm sitting," Stricker said of the leaderboard. "I knew who was coming. I saw the look in Bernhard's eye there for a little while and I'm like 'Uh-oh, here he comes.' I saw Freddy was only a shot or two back and Robert Karlsson, who I played with (Saturday) and who's really striking it well and, obviously, Kevin Sutherland was already in the house or on (No.) 18.
"You have to play well. You have to hit the shots and you've got to make the putts, which at times I did that (Sunday)."
In the end, Stricker hit 12 of 14 fairways with an average driving distance of 294.5 yards and hit 15 of 18 greens. For the week, he was 39-for-42 in fairways hit (93 percent) and 47-for-54 in greens hit (87 percent).
"He played extremely solid, never really made a mistake," Langer told reporters. "He just kept the ball in play, hit good shots, and made a couple of good putts but had a couple other chances, too. He played really, really steady, just the way you're supposed to play around here. (He) hit a lot of 3-woods off the tee, but he's pretty long still, and yeah, gave himself lots of looks and never had any total stress to get up-and-down or anything like that."
If anything, the time Stricker and wife/caddie Nicki spent at Tiburon this weekend was a welcome respite from the chaos elsewhere in the lives.
They recently sold and are in the process of moving out of their winter home at nearby golf community Quail West. Next week, Stricker plans a site visit to Whistling Straits, where he will captain the Americans in September at the Ryder Cup, before he and Nicki head to Ohio to watch daughter Bobbi compete in the Big Ten Conference Championship for the University of Wisconsin.
But, the way he is hitting it, Stricker can't wait to tee it up again — on either tour.
"It kind of goes week-to-week," Stricker was telling reporters in the aftermath of his 30th career victory as a professional. "I enjoy playing out here. Competition is great. You have to play well to win. But I also enjoy playing on the regular tour.
"I've had a couple good showings this year (including a T-4 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open) so far. If I could get the putter going a little bit, my ball-striking is probably as good as it (was) when I was playing my best out on the regular Tour. If I can get that putter going, I'll probably play out on the big Tour and see if I can make the (FedEx Cup) Playoffs one more time."