(Eds: With AP Photos.)By DOUG FERGUSONAP Golf Writer
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Steve Stricker is in semi-retirement from the PGA Tour, though it sure doesn’t feel that way to him.
Consider the 48 hours since his runner-up finish at Doral.
Stricker had to film an Avis commercial in Los Angeles the next day. When he booked his travel plans, he wasn’t aware the final round would end an hour later because of Daylight Savings Time, so he missed his flight. Phil Mickelson offered him a ride on his plane to San Diego, and Stricker took a charter up the coast. He finally got home to Wisconsin at 2 a.m. Tuesday, and then woke up to take his daughters to school before heading off to a meeting with his foundation until the girls got out of school.
He chuckled when talking about a text from caddie Jimmy Johnson that said, ”What are you up to?”
”I feel like I’m busier now than when I played a regular schedule,” Stricker said. ”But it’s all good. I’m doing a lot of things around home with the family, and with what (wife) Nicki and I are doing with the foundation. I’ll go to the grocery store with Nicki. And there’s still time to do some fun things.”
Deer hunting is done, but Stricker was quick to point out that coyote season is still open. He’s thinking about driving down to Chicago one day this week to watch the Big 10 men’s basketball tournament.
As for his golf? Not bad for a part-time player.
In three starts this year, he has made $1.82 million and is No. 4 on the money list. He has gone up 10 spots to No. 8 in the world ranking. Stricker was the runner-up at Kapalua and Doral, and he reached the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship.
He is doing more with less.
And along the way, his profile is as high as it has ever been.
He already was considered as nice a person as there is on the PGA Tour, mainly for his good manners and how he treats people. His father-in-law, Dennis Tiziani, summed it up a few years ago when he said Stricker was ”as considerate talking to a big executive on tour as he was to the guy working in Aisle 4 at the Home Depot.”
And now he is jokingly referred to as the part-time putting guru of Tiger Woods.
Their meeting Wednesday afternoon at Doral was a planned accident. Woods had wanted to play a practice round with Stricker on the eve of the tournament, but Woods didn’t arrive until early afternoon and couldn’t find him. It was only after Woods played nine holes and finished his media duties that he saw Stricker on the putting green.
Stricker is humble enough not to help unless asked. He has given Woods a few tips over the years, such as the Presidents Cup in 2011, and they often exchange text messages or chat about the art of putting. This was the longest session, and the most meaningful.
He noticed that Woods had his hands behind the ball and his posture was out of sync, probably from working so much on his long game and the recent hours Woods had spent chipping. Woods walked away feeling as good as he did at Torrey Pines, where he won by four shots. Over the next four days at Doral, he had his fewest number of putts (100) ever on the PGA Tour, made 27 birdies and won by two shots – over Stricker, no less.
Stricker said he told Woods after they finished that session, ”If you put me on your payroll, I could play a little bit less.”
He was genuinely happy to hear that Woods had putted well in the opening round, and the feeling didn’t change when Woods finished two shots ahead of him.
Stricker noticed more than just a putting stroke that was back to where it should be.
”His attitude, and what I saw this week, and his belief in himself again looks very similar to where he was in the early 2000s – or you can pick any year, I guess when he was playing great,” Stricker said. ”Yeah, he just seems in a better place mentally to me. He seems to be having fun. Seems to have a lot of confidence in himself and his game. And that’s fun to see.”
Everyone has more fun when they’re making putts.
”Now I know how he feels every day,” Woods said of Stricker. ”No wonder he’s always in a good mood.”
Woods is in a good spot with two wins before the Masters. Stricker is in a good spot because he’s playing less and looks as good as ever.
”I’m really excited what I’m doing this year,” Stricker said Tuesday. ”I can tell by my demeanor on the golf course.”
He probably should have done this a few years ago. He felt he owed it to his sponsors to play a full schedule, and he was thrilled when he realized they were on board with him cutting back this year. Even then, he was concerned that he would be criticized by golf fans for not playing as much.
The original plan was to defend his title at Kapalua and walk away. Over the holidays, he struck a compromise of 10 or 11 events.
”What I told Nicki was if I could just make enough money to pay our yearly expenses as a family, I’m fine with that,” Stricker said at Kapalua. ”If we don’t have to touch anything I’ve put away, I don’t need to do what I’m doing just to make money. I’d rather be staying home, doing things at home.
”I wanted to not have it be about me anymore.”
That’s what he’s doing, and he’s making it work beyond his own expectations. He is playing good golf. He has plenty of time for his family.