Wisconsin's favorite golfing son, Steve Stricker, kicks off his 2013 PGA Tour season today at the Huyndai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii (where I once hit a 410-yard drive on the famous 18th hole). I would recommend those who are big fans of Steve to catch every round--because you may not see him for a while. This week, Steve announced that he is scaling back his playing schedule considerably. Golf Channel is calling Stricker's decision "semi-retirement"--at the age of 46. He has permission from the Tour to play as few as 10 tournaments this year without losing his fully-exempt status.
The decision shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows Steve. He has long been the most reluctant of stars in any sport. He cries after winning. He never moved to Florida or Arizona like every other player on the Tour so that he could live in a gated community and practice in perfect conditions on perfect private courses that none of us will EVER get to play. Instead, Steve chose to stay in the Madison area so that he and his wife could stay close to their families and raise their kids with solid Midwestern values.
His famous comeback from the abyss started with his father-in-law, Dennis Tiziani setting up an open-sided trailer on the range at Cherokee Country Club allowing Steve to hit balls into the snow all winter long. He never went to Butch Harmon or Hank Haney or David Ledbetter to rebuild his swing. The return from the 200's in the World Rankings came under the eye of Tiz' in the freezing cold and snowdrifts at Cherokee. Scott Van Pelt and Dan Patrick still marvel every once in a while at how Stricks won PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year two years in a row!! But that was how "lost" Steve was in the early 2000's.
But having climbed that mountain, Steve is ready to walk away--on his own terms. He was never one of those guys who went to China or the Middle East after the PGA Tour season was over to cash some big checks. He really did prefer to go hunting or get his kids's lunch ready for school every day. And I never saw him as one of those guys who would play out the string on the Champions Tour either. I think Steve looks at his bank statement and says "We've got more than enough".
I'd hate to think that last year's Ryder Cup debacle sped that decision. Leaving Medinah that day, there were more than a few fans (not patrons at the Ryder Cup) who were just killing Stricker for "blowing it" for Team USA. Even as a fan I had to admit that Steve didn't help the cause a single iota. He did drag down Tiger in the partners formats--winning just two holes with his ball in foursomes. Sometimes I think the worst thing that ever happened to Stricks was his performance paired with Tiger at the Presidents Cup in the 2009--when he made every putt he looked at, while Tiger just laughed on the fringe and the team just kicked the crap out of any International pair thrown up against them. It created the belief that Tiger and Steve were invincible--and people (and Captain Davis Love III) brought that same belief to Medinah last year.
The silver lining to losing our golfing hero is that Steve will dedicate more time to the new foundation he has formed with American Family Insurance. Last year, Steve won the Payne Stewart Award--given the PGA Tour Pro that exemplifies its namesake's dedication to charity and service away from the course. Steve's passion is an arts program for severely disabled children and adults here in Wisconsin. Last year, Golf Channel did a segment on the charity tournament and those involved in the program (sorry couldn't find video on line) and it moved me to tears the two or three times I saw it.
While we Wisconsin golfers may be losing one of our favorites on the course and TV every week, the people of Wisconsin are gaining a tireless worker for the benefit of others. I'd call that a pretty fair trade.