AmFam Stricker on 10

Steve Stricker | 2021 American Family Insurance Championship

AKRON, Ohio — The last time Steve Stricker putted with an over-sized grip on his putter, the Madison golfer used it to pull out a one-stroke victory in April at the Chubb Classic in Florida. And then?

"I took it off," Stricker said Thursday.

He took it off?

"That makes sense," an interviewer replied sarcastically.

Stricker explained that, despite his one-stroke victory over Alex Cejka and Robert Karlsson, "I really didn't feel like I putted all that great with it" so back into storage it went.

Until Thursday. Stricker, who has struggled on the greens of late despite being considered one of the PGA Tour Champions' finest putters, got a grip on that part of his game Thursday to the tune of a 7-under-par 63 at famed Firestone Country Club. That broke the tournament first-round scoring record by one shot and staked him to a four-stroke lead over Ken Duke and Paul Broadhurst in his bid to win the third of the five majors on the senior circuit.

"I've been working with it at home quite a bit back and forth," Stricker said of the thicker grip on his putter. "Even with the arm lock, that seems to be gaining popularity and I feel pretty good with that, too. I'm a left dominant sided putter, left arm putter, so even the arm lock feels good to me, but that's another level.

"So I've been going the other way and putting this grip on and that feels pretty good. It seems to have made my misses a lot tighter."

Playing alongside fellow Madison golfer Jerry Kelly — recent repeat champion of the American Family Insurance Championship, which Stricker hosts — seemed to bring out the best in the U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

Stricker began his 100th career round on the PGA Tour Champions on No. 10 and made five birdies on his outward nine, including three in a row ahead of the turn. He tacked on birdies at Nos. 3 and 8 to finish off a bogey-free round.

"I got off to a good start," Stricker said. "We played those first three holes straight into the wind and I birdied 11 with a nice shot in there and then holed it out of the bunker at 12, so I felt like I stole one there at 12.

"Just played pretty solid. It's a good golf course. You have to really pay attention here. You've got to put it in play off the tee, which I did for the most part (Thursday). And I putted well, so all in all, I did everything – I did everything pretty well."

In shooting his lowest score in 34 rounds during the 2020-21 wraparound season, Stricker took just 25 putts on the day and didn't have a birdie putt longer than 20 feet. Five of his seven birdie putts were inside of six feet.

Making his third start in this event, Stricker improved his first-round scoring average in it to 65. His four-stroke lead is the largest after 18 holes in tournament history. 

"I've got to continue on with that. I haven't won here at Firestone, so I've gotten off to some good starts here before and I've just got to keep 'er going," Stricker said. "Just keep playing with the confidence level that I played with today and keep trying to hit the shots that I hit today and just play smart when I have to and be aggressive when I have that opportunity, and I feel good about being aggressive."

PGA Tour Champions: Madison's Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly at Bridgestone Senior Players Championship | First-round results (Firestone CC-Akron, Ohio)

Pos. Player Total Thru Today R1 R2 R3 R4 Score
Wisconsin leaderboard
1 Steve Stricker -7 F* -7 63 -- -- -- 63
T4 Jerry Kelly -1 F* -1 69 -- -- -- 69
Full leaderboard
1 Steve Stricker -7 F* -7 63 -- -- -- 63
T2 Ken Duke -3 F -3 67 -- -- -- 67
T2 Paul Broadhurst -3 F -3 67 -- -- -- 67
T4 Marco Dawson -1 F* -1 69 -- -- -- 69
T4 Jerry Kelly -1 F* -1 69 -- -- -- 69
T4 Bob Estes -1 F* -1 69 -- -- -- 69
T4 Gene Sauers -1 F -1 69 -- -- -- 69
T8 Stephen Leaney E F E 70 -- -- -- 70
T8 Miguel Angel Jiménez E F* E 70 -- -- -- 70
T8 Rod Pampling E F E 70 -- -- -- 70
T8 José María Olazábal E F* E 70 -- -- -- 70
T8 Dicky Pride E F E 70 -- -- -- 70
T8 Paul Goydos E F E 70 -- -- -- 70
T8 Darren Clarke E F E 70 -- -- -- 70
T8 Kevin Sutherland E F E 70 -- -- -- 70
T16 Steve Flesch 1 F* 1 71 -- -- -- 71
T16 John Huston 1 F 1 71 -- -- -- 71
T16 Bernhard Langer 1 F* 1 71 -- -- -- 71
T16 Jim Furyk 1 F* 1 71 -- -- -- 71
T16 Tim Herron 1 F 1 71 -- -- -- 71
T16 Scott Parel 1 F* 1 71 -- -- -- 71
T16 Kenny Perry 1 F 1 71 -- -- -- 71
T16 Robert Karlsson 1 F 1 71 -- -- -- 71
T24 Tim Petrovic 2 F 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 Vijay Singh 2 F* 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 Steve Pate 2 F 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 Cameron Beckman 2 F* 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 Woody Austin 2 F 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 David Toms 2 F 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 Fred Couples 2 F 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 Ernie Els 2 F 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 Brandt Jobe 2 F 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T24 Doug Barron 2 F 2 72 -- -- -- 72
T34 Brett Quigley 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Retief Goosen 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Duffy Waldorf 3 F 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Joe Durant 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Steve Jones 3 F 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 David McKenzie 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Tom Gillis 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Wes Short, Jr. 3 F 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 David Frost 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Scott Dunlap 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 John Daly 3 F 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Lee Janzen 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T34 Fred Funk 3 F* 3 73 -- -- -- 73
T47 Larry Mize 4 F 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Shane Bertsch 4 F* 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Tom Lehman 4 F* 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Rocco Mediate 4 F* 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Willie Wood 4 F 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Tom Byrum 4 F* 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Scott McCarron 4 F 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Mike Weir 4 F 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Ken Tanigawa 4 F* 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Paul Stankowski 4 F* 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 John Senden 4 F* 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T47 Stephen Ames 4 F 4 74 -- -- -- 74
T59 Olin Browne 5 F 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T59 Jay Haas 5 F* 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T59 Dudley Hart 5 F 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T59 Tommy Armour III 5 F 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T59 Kent Jones 5 F 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T59 Glen Day 5 F 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T59 Joey Sindelar 5 F* 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T59 Matt Gogel 5 F* 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T59 Colin Montgomerie 5 F 5 75 -- -- -- 75
T68 Billy Andrade 6 F 6 76 -- -- -- 76
T68 Michael Allen 6 F 6 76 -- -- -- 76
T68 Corey Pavin 6 F 6 76 -- -- -- 76
T68 Kirk Triplett 6 F 6 76 -- -- -- 76
T68 Carlos Franco 6 F* 6 76 -- -- -- 76
T68 Chris DiMarco 6 F* 6 76 -- -- -- 76
T74 Jeff Maggert 7 F* 7 77 -- -- -- 77
T74 Russ Cochran 7 F* 7 77 -- -- -- 77
T74 Esteban Toledo 7 F* 7 77 -- -- -- 77
T74 K.J. Choi 7 F* 7 77 -- -- -- 77
78 Billy Mayfair 8 F 8 78 -- -- -- 78
79 Scott Verplank 10 F 10 80 -- -- -- 80
80 Jay Don Blake 12 F* 12 82 -- -- -- 82
81 David Eger 15 F* 15 85 -- -- -- 85

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