LA QUINTA, Calif. — Days like Saturday were the very image Bob Hope had for the PGA Tour event now known as The American Express.
Golfers meet celebrities. Celebrities meet golfers. Friendships are forged. Good times are had. Everyone leaves with smiles on their faces.
Such was the way this picture-perfect Saturday went for Steve Stricker.
The Madison golfer met playing partner Brett Hull – he of the 19-year NHL career with the Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes – on the first tee. They talked sports the entire length of the 445-yard first hole on the Stadium Course at PGA West and, by the time the day was done, Stricker could not have had more fun for a guy who missed the cut by three shots.
His 4-under-par 68 was his best round of the week, but even his 6-under 210 total looked a bit paltry compared to the matching 21-under 195s of Scottie Scheffler and Andrew Landry, who lead the event by four shots over Rickie Fowler. Stricker did help Hull get to the Sunday portion of the pro-am event as they shot 7-under 65 to push Hull's 54-hole total with different partners each day to 24-under 192, earning him one of the three low-gross spots alongside the three low-net qualifiers among the six amateurs headed to the final round.
They were quite a show for the generous gallery on the Stadium Course, some of them early arrivals for the sold-out Luke Bryan concert on the driving range after the round.
Stricker birdied No. 1 to the delight of Hull, who raised his right arm to the sky in celebration of not having to try his birdie putt with one in the barn. Instead, he saved his wizardry with the flat-stick for the next two holes, rolling in lengthy birdie putts to get the team to 3-under after just three holes.
"I was really bearing down, thinking that maybe I could get an assistant captaincy deal or maybe a captain's pick," Hull joked in reference to Stricker's role as the 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain. "It was great, playing with a Ryder Cup captain. I'd never met Steve before, we all know he's a really great guy. And he did not let me down; we had a great time and we played great."
Stricker couldn't have hit it off better with the 55-year-old Hull, who broke into the NHL in 1986 with Calgary as a young sniper playing for legendary coach "Badger" Bob Johnson. Hull currently serves as an executive vice president for the St. Louis Blues.
"It was a lot of fun," Stricker said of his pairing. "What a great guy. A good player, too. A 2-handicapper. Swung at it very nicely. We had a great time.
"That's what this tournament is all about."
Indeed, once upon a time, there was as much to see outside the ropes as there was inside where the competition took place. The old Bob Hope was one of those places in the Coachella Valley to be seen among actors, athletes and politicians.
These days, fans might see a retired college basketball coach, too.
Stricker got an enthusiastic wave from one as he walked up the ninth fairway. Across the pond that runs the length of the fairway, former University of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and wife Kelly got the attention of Stricker and his wife/caddie Nicki and then walked over by the 10th tee, where the Ryans posed for pictures with the Strickers and their daughters, Bobbi and Izzi.
Ever the recruiter, Bo Ryan hinted to Bobbi Stricker, a member of the Badgers women's golf team, that his 19 handicap at PGA West is ready and waiting for scramble events once her college career is finished. Steve Stricker, a season-ticket holder for Badgers games at the Kohl Center, joked that he could have passed the rest of the afternoon talking basketball with Ryan, but saved that for after his round, when he described the difficulty of watching the heart-pounding action in the Big Ten Conference this season with a reporter.
"I don't think there is a team in the Big Ten that stands out – well, maybe Michigan State from what I saw (Friday) night when they played the Badgers – and all these games are tightly contested, for the most part," Stricker said. "The Big Ten is strong. The big men in the Big Ten are playing unbelievable. I watched a couple guys (Friday) night (on TV) in that Iowa-Michigan game; they had a battle to the end as well.
"The Badgers, they are exciting to watch. They're frustrating to watch, at times. You feel like they've turned the corner then they take a step back, but we root for them all year long and wish them the best. Hopefully, they can make the tournament."
By his own admission, though, Stricker doesn't follow what's happening on the ice as much as he does the hardwood. "I'm not a huge hockey fan, but I'm a Brett Hull fan, for sure; especially after today," he said. "What a character. We had a lot of smiles (and) a lot of laughs as we went around."
The biggest smile from Stricker no doubt came at the 16th hole where he hit a driver/hybrid on the 547-yard par 5 just short of the green. With 36 feet to the hole, Stricker holed his chip for an eagle to get to 5-under for the week.
"I showed signs out there (Saturday), which was better," Stricker said. "I felt good this week. That is why I came here, to see how my body would feel and especially my (injured left) elbow. As the tournament went on, it felt better and I started hitting at it a little harder. That part fires me up."