JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The voice still cracks and Steve Stricker fights to hold back the tears, a sure sign winning isn’t getting old. If anything, it’s making the 56-year-old Stricker feel young.
That’s why his remarkable, record-setting year on the PGA Tour Champions has Stricker thinking about playing more on the PGA Tour next year.
“I don’t know if it will work,” Stricker said at the Constellation Furyk & Friends. “That’s what the fun part is — the challenge of playing with the best in the world.”
The temptation comes from beating the best his age with alarming regularity.
His performance last week at Timuquana Country Club — shabby by his 2023 standards — was to be expected. Stricker had spent the previous week at Marco Simone as an assistant captain in the Ryder Cup, didn’t touch a club in Rome and tied for 15th. It was the first time since August 2022 he finished out of the top 10.
And even that doesn’t fully illustrate his year. Stricker has six wins and five runner-up finishes in 16 tournaments, meaning he has been first or second in 69% of his starts. Three of those wins were at majors. At the other major he played, the U.S. Senior Open, he was runner-up.
He already has set the PGA Tour Champions earnings record — currently $3,986,063 — and he is a lock to become the first senior player to surpass $4 million in a year.
So enormous is his lead in the Charles Schwab Cup that only five players have a mathematical chance to catch him. For most of them, they would have to win all three playoff events. Stricker probably doesn’t even have to play again, but he will.
“This has been a goal of mine,” he said of winning the Schwab Cup. “I’ve wanted to win this and I’ve put every effort into trying to play well.”
The next mountain to climb would be the one he already left behind. The courses on the PGA Tour Champions aren’t as long and the competition isn’t nearly as strong. Winning with regularity on any tour can make it seem as though the game is as good as ever.
Stricker knows better.
“All of our abilities tend to deteriorate over time,” he said. “The older we get, I’m not hitting it as far, probably not as good a putter or chipper as I was when I was playing full-time.”
The other side to him wants a challenge. And each win makes the temptation that much stronger to play against the best, flat bellies half his age. There’s only one way to find out.
“If it takes a couple of tournaments and I play horribly, that may be it,” Stricker said. “But if I play a couple of tournaments and play decent, or play well in one or two of them? I had a chance to win Phoenix two or three years ago.”
He played that final round of the 2021 Phoenix Open with Brooks Koepka, who chipped in for eagle on the 17th hole and wound up winning. Stricker finished two shots behind in a tie for fourth on a TPC Scottsdale course that didn’t particularly suit him except for nice weather.
“As we get older, we get a little smarter, too — work smarter and work our way around the course a little bit smarter than you did when you were younger,” he said. “I think I still hit it straight enough. I don’t know about long enough. That’s the question.”
Stricker hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since the 3M Open in the summer of 2021, back when he was Ryder Cup captain and wanted a close look at players who might be on his team in what turned out to be a 19-9 romp over Europe.
And then came a mysterious illness right after the Ryder Cup, causing his white blood cell count to spike, his liver count to plunge and inflammation around his heart that caused it to pump out of rhythm. He lost 25 pounds and was hospitalized for two weeks.
Out of golf for six months, he returned to win four times in 12 starts before heading off to the woods with his bow. Stricker can hear the woods calling now. He also knows it would be a bad look to win the Schwab Cup without competing in the playoffs. He plans to play at least one postseason event, probably two.
Mike Weir has wondered how Stricker would fare on the PGA Tour because of his short game, long considered among the best in golf. Weir couldn’t think of many comparisons.
“Jordan Spieth comes to mind, as good as he is around the greens,” Weir said. “But Strick has had an incredible year.”
Stricker plans to ask for an exemption to the Sony Open on Oahu in January, a week before the PGA Tour Champions opens its year on the Big Island. He already is in The Players Championship and the PGA Championship from winning the senior version of those majors.
After that, it’s a matter of finding the right fit at the right courses and see where it takes him, or perhaps see how long it lasts.
“It’s just a great time to be part of the PGA Tour,” he said.
But then he smiled and leaned on the cart he used for the pro-am at Timuquana and said, “This lifestyle out here is pretty good, too.”
He typically shows up on Wednesday, plays the pro-am on Thursday and 54 holes later is headed home, often with a trophy. The PGA Tour would require more time, more practice, more work. Is a 56-year-old body up for that?
Stricker doesn’t see the harm in finding out.
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