Stricker now top-ranked American with Memorial win
Five years ago, Steve Stricker wasn’t good enough to even play
in the Memorial Tournament.
He was just starting to emerge from a slump so deep that he went
three straight years without finishing among the top 150 on the PGA
Tour money list. He earned less money in that stretch than what he
made for winning the Memorial on Sunday.
Five years and seven wins later, he still finds his turnaround
hard to believe.
With a spectacular bunker shot from behind the 12th green, and
two clutch par putts over the final three holes, Stricker held on
for a one-shot victory at Muirfield Village and continued his
He won for the 10th time in his career, and for the seventh time
in the past five years. He went over $30 million in career
earnings, with $20 million won since the start of 2007. He also
moved to No. 4 in the world, and while that’s not the highest he
has been in the ranking, this marks the first time he has been the
Does he feel like a superstar?
”No. No I don’t,” he said. ”I don’t look at myself any
differently. I just go out and play, and I try to play well. And
I’m on a great run these last five or six years, and I just want to
Jack Nicklaus, the tournament host who greeted Stricker with a
handshake and a hug behind the 18th green, saw it differently.
Not because Stricker became the first player at Muirfield
Village to make eagles on a par 3, a par 4 and a par 5. Not because
he played the front nine in 20-under par for the week, building
such an advantage that he could afford a few mistakes. Not because
he closed with a 4-under 68, and not because he won Nicklaus’
”He’s a superstar in more ways than his golf game,” Nicklaus
said. ”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
Even when he wasn’t playing in the Memorial, Stricker used to
watch on television and loved the ending. No matter who won, he saw
Nicklaus waiting to salute the champion behind the 18th green.
On Sunday, that moment belonged to Stricker.
It was a tough journey to get there. Stricker had a three-shot
lead with just more than five holes to play when a storm system
moved into the area and halted play for 2 1/2 hours. He sat in the
fitness area of the locker room, thinking about the closing stretch
in front of him, wondering if he would be able to hold on.
He missed a short birdie on the 14th. He drove into the trees on
the par-5 15th and made bogey. With his lead over Matt Kuchar and
Brandt Jobe down to two shots, plenty could go wrong on the final
holes. Stricker found a bunker on the par-3 16th and escaped with
par by making a 15-foot putt. He hit into another bunker on the
17th, and holed a 7-foot par putt to keep his two-shot cushion.
”I feel good when I’ve got the putter in my hand,” Stricker
That allowed him a conservative bogey on the 18th for a one-shot
win over Kuchar and Jobe, who each shot 65 in the final round. And
then came the walk across the green to see 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 never saw the news conference that followed, when
Nicklaus sits beside the winner and offers his observations. What
made this one different from most is that three times, while
listening to the Golden Bear heap praise on the champion, Stricker
politely turned to his host and said, ”Thank you.”
Nicklaus believes Stricker has the game to win a major, if not
two weeks from now in the U.S. Open, then soon. What impressed him
the most was the bunker shot Stricker played behind the 12th
To go toward the front of the green away from the flag, the ball
would roll off the green and into another bunker. To go at the
flag, the ball might have gone over the side of the green and into
”My only play was to throw it up there in the fringe and
hopefully, it came out and got on the green,” Stricker said. ”I
was just looking to get a 10-foot putt at it, and I almost made
The ball came out into the rough, hopped onto the green and
stopped a foot away.
”That was the best shot you played,” Nicklaus told him.
”Thank you,” Stricker replied.
”That was an unbelievable bunker shot,” Nicklaus
”There might have been a little luck involved in that,”
Stricker said sheepishly.
Indeed, Stricker feels like a lucky man these days. He became
the first player since 2005 to shoot all four rounds in the 60s at
Muirfield Village, finishing 16-under 272.
Kuchar and Jobe did their best to chase him. They both started
the final round four shots behind and shot 31 on the front nine.
Stricker played behind them and shot 30, building a four-shot
The storm delay slowed his momentum, and he had a few nervous
moments in the final hour. But he pulled through for yet another
win, taking his game – and his name – to places he never imagined
five years ago.
”It’s special,” Stricker said. ”From where I came from … to
be where I’m at today, I’ve got to pinch myself every once in a
while to remember where I was and where I am. And the confidence
level at which I play now is night and day, and that’s a good
thing. I’m just enjoying the ride.”