Stricker on fairway.jpg

Steve Stricker chips onto the 14th green.

The top putter (Todd Hamilton), top driver (Scott McCarron), most accurate iron player (Vijay Singh), best closer (Jerry Kelly) and the statistically best all-around golfer on the PGA Tour Champions (Joe Durant) were in attendance this weekend for the 2018 American Family Insurance Championship.

And host Steve Stricker would have been disappointed had they skipped.

Still, as memorable and successful as they made his week until mid-afternoon Sunday, one of them was bound to make it difficult for Stricker to walk away feeling satisfied about the whole experience. In the end, McCarron inched ahead of the pack of PGA Tour Champions stars to win his first event of 2018, but Stricker blamed on himself for having it end the way it did.

“Yeah, we had two great days of weather (and) we had a lot of fans come out to enjoy the tournament,” Stricker said of a weeked that featured appearances by Shaquille O’Neal, Brett Favre and Derek Jeter during Saturday’s round, which tournament officials believe shattered a single-day attendance record and, during Sunday’s final round, J.J. Watt.

“It was the way to end the tournament, you know? Personally, I played a good round (Sunday), but I just got too far behind with that round I shot (Saturday). And that really put a damper on my weekend.”

Indeed, Stricker’s second-round 74 was, in his words, “a microcosm” of his year. And not in a good way.

It came one day after Stricker proved yet again he is one of the best starters on both the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour Champions. It came one day before he played himself into position for his third victory of the season on the senior circuit only to short-circuit down the stretch.

This time, it was his putter that let him down. With giant scoreboards showing McCarron and Kelly on the rise behind him, Stricker — having already missed opportunities on Nos. 14 and 15 — knew that he’d have to birdie No. 17 or 18 after he made one of the 42 birdies on the day at the par-5 16th only to walk away kicking himself after missing both birdie tries inside 10 feet.

“When we were coming in, I told (wife/caddie) Nicki that we’ve got to try to get to 15(-under),” Stricker said. “That was the number in my head as we were somewhere in that 12, 13, 14th-hole mark. I saw that these guys were behind me so I knew they had the same holes to try and birdie that I did. … (I) had the opportunities; I just didn’t make those (birdie) putts I needed coming in.

“I pulled the putt at (No.) 14. I hit a good putt at (No.) 15 and it never broke. (At No.) 17, I don’t know why I didn’t think that was going to go right. The whole back of the green slopes away and I was playing it fairly straight and I don’t even know what I was thinking there. (At No.) 18, I actually hit a good putt, thought it was going to move right and it never really moved … right.”

Still, he said, the missed putts on Sunday weren’t as damaging as the messed round Saturday.

“A microcosm of my year, really,” Stricker said. “Some really good things and throw in some not-so-good things. Like (Saturday), the whole round, that was the worst round I’ve played all year on any of the tours. That just killed me. If I could have just shot even-par (Saturday), it would have given me a better opportunity. It was a struggle, but I bounced back and did some good things and (that) kind of keeps me excited after the two weeks that I’m going to have to have off to tee it up again (on the PGA Tour) at the John Deere Classic (in Silvis, Illinois).”

rob@killarneygolfmedia.com

Rob started covering the Wisconsin golf scene in 1987 at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison & has been the only reporter covering all levels of state golf. He joined Killarney Golf Media in Sept. 2015 & helped launch Wisconsin.Golf in Jan. 2016.