by Jeff Skinner
Steve Stricker found the inner strength to make it through a harrowing back nine on Sunday to close out The Memorial Tournament for the biggest win of his career. He had a three stroke lead with five holes left to play but then a weather delay seemed to rob Super Strick of his powers.
Stricker had played the front nine like Superman all week totaling an amazing twenty under par on holes one through nine. On the back he played more like Clark Kent and was a plus four on holes ten through eighteen. But it was his clutch putting and superb bunker play that enabled him to hold his lead and accept the trophy from his good friend Jack Nicklaus. “You’ve seen so many guys do that over the years, the winners coming off the green and getting greeted by Mr. Nicklaus,” Stricker said. “And you always think one day that could be you. And it turned out it was me this year. It’s a great thrill. It’s a dream come true.”
Stricker looked to be in great shape as he finished the front nine with another sizzling six under par 30. But the back nine was his kryptonite as once again he struggled to even sniff a birdie. His best shots on the closing nine were to save par including a brilliant sand save on twelve and clutch par putts on sixteen and seventeen.
Stricker’s competition came from Matt Kuchar and Brandt Jobe who both shot 65’s to tie for second place. The final leaderboard at The Memorial may have given us a glimpse at what The U.S. Open may be like. Stricker and Kuchar are two of the most consistent players on tour and hit a lot of fairways and greens as does Luke Donald who tied for seventh. Long hitter Dustin Johnson (4th) and phenom Rory McIlroy (5th) certainly have the game to contend at Congressional. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all of these players on the top end of the leaderboard in two weeks.
With this win Stricker moves to number four in the Official World Golf Rankings and is the top ranked American in the world. That’s a long way from where sticker had been back in 2004 when he lost his tour card. Stricker came back from the hinterlands of professional golf and won the PGA Tour’s Comeback Player of the year, not once but twice.
There isn’t a more humble player on tour and when asked about his “superstar” status he was his usual modest self. “No. No, I don’t.(think I’m a superstar) I guess that’s why I dodged that question over there when they asked about it. I’ve been up to No. 2 in the world, and I just go about my own business. I don’t look at myself any differently. I don’t — I just go out and play, you know, and I try to play well. And I’m on a great run these last five or six years, and I just want to continue it.”
Nicklaus differs with Stricker on that point. “Do I think he’s a superstar? Yeah, but I think he’s a superstar in more ways than his golf game… But even more, I think he’s been a superstar from the way he’s behaved himself, the way he handles his game, the way he handles people and the way he handles fans. He’s always done that, and that to me is equally as important as how well you score. I’ve always felt that about Steve.
I remember when he was in college, he was a great kid when he was in college, and here he is 25 years later and he’s still a great kid. Not a kid anymore, but he’s still a kid to me.”
Stricker is thrilled with this win and has to feel great when Jack Nicklaus says such positive remarks about him. Steve Stricker is one of the rarest things in sport: a modest superstar.