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Bobbi Stricker looks to the future, possible walk-on opportunity with the Badgers while drawing from her parents' past

Nicki, Bobbi Stricker

Nicki Stricker, left, and Bobbi Stricker survey Lake Mendota while Bobbi wraps up play recently in the Madison City Women's Golf Tournament. (Wisconsin.Golf photo / Rob Hernandez)

As defining a moment as it might've seemed to most of the golf world recently for a 49-year-old guy to finish fourth in a tournament as major as the Open Championship, the following day was the one that really packed an emotional punch for Madison's Steve Stricker.

After signing his scorecard at Royal Troon GC and sifting through all the fringe benefits attached to his second-best finish in 66 career major championships, Stricker hopped a plane and headed home for a moment built solely on the courage of his oldest daughter Bobbi. He was about to experience life as a golf father for the first time.

Indeed, less than 24 hours after living one milestone moment, there was Stricker, walking the back nine at Odana Hills GC in Madison living another as he watched Bobbi play a Wisconsin PGA/Buckets of Hope Junior Tour event in a twosome with Verona's Lauren Shorter.

It was only the fourth competitive tournament since Bobbi Stricker, who was a four-time WIAA Division 1 state girls tennis qualifier at Waunakee, made the decision to take up golf with a goal of playing for the University of Wisconsin as a walk-on. It was the first time she'd played in front of her father, who had missed the first three while he was overseas for the Scottish Open and Open Championship.

"I got there with about six or seven holes to play," said Stricker, who brought youngest daughter Izzy along for the stroll. "I hadn't really seen her play any competitive golf. It was nice to see and I was grinding it out with her. I felt like I was hitting every shot.

"It was a different mentality for me, that's for sure."

Yet, the transition from tennis to golf has come so naturally for his daughter, who has finished in the top 10 of all four events she has played this summer with a low score of 75 and a high of 85.

"It's been a lot of fun; I've enjoyed it a lot," Bobbi Stricker said after the recent Madison City Women's Tournament where her mother Nicki, herself a three-time champion of the event, caddied for her.

"Having my mom here was a lot of fun. I'm just learning a lot about myself and about my game. It keeps improving each and every time."

Family history repeats

Like the apple that doesn't fall far from the tree, the golf ball sometimes doesn't fall far from the tee. Bobbi and Nicki Stricker would be living proof of that with nearly identical tales of their late arrival to a game linked to her family for generations.

Nicki Stricker was a reluctant golfer, at best, when she graduated Madison East in 1988 and went to UW to play for her father, Dennis, who was coaching the Badgers men's and women's teams at the time. Nicki's resume looked skimpy compared to the other, more-heralded golfers her father managed to recruit to campus, but her desire to become a difference-maker in the program drove her to great heights.

"I was not gung-ho," Nicki Stricker said. "I didn't really have any expectations until I got there. I didn't know what I was in for.

"I qualified (for the top five) right away freshman year. But I had this idea I wasn't good enough. These girls who were there were way better than I was. When I saw that I wasn't that far away, just that drive to make that improvement to do it and just being on the team, I started to have fun. For her, it's going to be a big deal, too."

If her college golf career is like her mom's, though, it will start quietly. And that's OK by a vast support network as Bobbi gives golf the ol' college try.

To date, Nicki's freshman stroke average (85.67) ranks 53rd among the 75 current and former Badgers golfers whose rookie campaigns have been tracked since those kind of statistics were first monitored in 1978. But it should be noted that, four years later, Nicki finished fourth at the Big Ten Conference Championship -- one of just 20 top-10 finishes in school history -- after shooting 71-76-78-82 on her home course at Cherokee CC in Madison.

"I'm going through almost the exact, same thing she went through," Bobbi Stricker said. "She's been teaching me a lot of things, not just with my golf game, but mentally and how to think of things and out on the golf course, how to compete. And to be patient.

"I've been putting in a lot of work this summer. I didn't know how I fit in with a lot of other kids. It's kind of cool to see that I'm just right in there."

Eager to Master the game

Still, there aren't many aspiring college golfers who can say their dad gets to go to work with Jordan Spieth. Or Rickie Fowler. Or Rory McIlroy. Or Jason Day.

Bobbi Stricker admits, once upon a time, their sheer presence made quite an impression on her. But as she grew older and became involved in sports herself, she developed a greater appreciation for them through the passion and work ethic they bring to the game.

"I've had the chance to meet some of those people and they're just really nice guys," Bobbi Stricker said. "I'm not really awe-struck (by them). It's just cool to be in their presence."

Likewise, there aren't many aspiring college golfers who can say they have caddied at The Masters. Bobbi Stricker has done it for the Wednesday par-3 contest several times, but her 2015 appearance at Augusta National was especially memorable.

"That uniform, on really hot days, is really hot," Bobbi Stricker said. "But it's an honor, really, to put that on and walk around that par-3 golf course and get to play with those people. I think the last time we were there (in 2015), I caddied with my sister Izzy and we played with Tiger Woods, so that was pretty cool."

These early weeks transitioning from high school tennis to college golf have reminded Bobbi Stricker how easy her dad and his contemporaries make the game seem.

She was given the chance to single out one of them for inspiring her confidence to make the switch in sports. However, when it comes to modeling her game after any of the golfers she's studied from inside or outside the ropes, the most influential golfer is the one she knows the best.

"I mostly look at my dad," Bobbi Stricker said of a guy who has won 12 times on the PGA Tour but not since the 2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, a victory that provided her with the most memorable moment following her father's career.

"Just how he handles himself. Just his playing, too. It's mostly my dad."

A birth and a re-birth

When Steve Stricker qualified for the PGA Championship, he joked that he'd have to get Bobbi's permission to play before committing to being at Baltusrol GC.

Parent orientation for new students at UW is this weekend, he said. Playing in the year's final major meant missing out on that event and leaving it to wife Nicki.

His playing in the PGA for the 11th year in a row showed how much support there is in the Stricker home for the sudden re-birth of his game. He said there is the same measure of support for the birth of his daughter's competitive interest in a sport at which he's made a comfortable living for more than 25 years.

Just like nobody is looking to Steve to capture his first major championship on the Lower Course at Baltustrol, there are no expectations on Bobbi to crack the starting line-up for the Badgers. Heck, she and her parents would be thrilled to one day see her name on the roster.

"There are no expectations that we're putting on her," Nicki Stricker said. "Just continue to do her thing. To keep working hard. Keep trying to improve. Keep learning. She has a whole bunch of people that she can go to for information. But, at some point, she has to make it hers.

"She's done some really good things, but she has a lot of things she has to work on. And she knows that. ... The expectations she has, they can be lofty but they have to be realistic, too. You have a place you want to get to, but you can't get there in a day."

So, in the meantime, Bobbi Stricker will continue to lean on that quiet confidence that has fueled her strong start. And her dad will learn to deal with that quiet nervousness that all golf dads -- even those who will captain a Presidents Cup team in 2017 -- seems to have when they follow their daughters.

"She's doing some really good things, but there are still some really dumb things she's doing yet," Steve Stricker said. "But, again, that's from the lack of playing and just not being quite sharp enough with some of her short game and putting stuff. I've been trying to drill it into her 'If you can just chip and putt.'

"I've made a career at chipping and putting and I know how important that is. I'm trying to instill that into her, because that goes a long way."

At the same time, Steve Stricker has also tried to remind his daughter not to expect those pieces of the puzzle to lock into place overnight.

"My ideal situation for her would be to redshirt; then she has another year to continue to work and put the time in and learn," Steve Stricker said. "I feel there will be a time where she'll contribute to that team. If she continues to improve the way she's improving and have fun doing it, I think she can play for the Badgers."

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