The over-under on how long it would take Steve Stricker to break down in tears at Tuesday night's presentation of the Payne Stewart Award was 60 seconds. This was a number arrived at by the other tour players gathered to watch Stricker's acceptance speech at the Ritz Carlton, and the best bet was to take the under. Stricker didn't even get to the podium before crying. "I didn't even make it through the video," he said.
This moment was vintage Stricker, showing just how much he cares, and why he was presented with this award. The Stewart Award is for a player who shows respect for the traditions of the game, who supports charity, and who carries himself in a professional manner. Stricker epitomizes those principles.
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"He knows how to be himself, and that's what makes him so good," says Stricker's father-in-law and coach, Dennis Tiziani. "And he has a great understanding for other people's feelings."
Stricker's parents, Bob and Caroline, are retired now, living across the street from Edgerton Towne Country Club in Edgerton, Wis., a public course where Steve grew up playing. Bob was an electrician who fought through polio and raised Steve in an old-school manner. "It was the little things: Eat over your plate, don't throw clubs, wash your hands," Tiziani said.
"I don't know if we did anything special," Bob Stricker said when I reached him Wednesday afternoon. "We tried to instill in our boys that people like it if you say hi to them even if you don't know who they are."
At 75, Bob is doing limited work these days, but was enlisted to wire the hunting camp Steve and Dennis share in Michigan. "First thing he said was, 'I'd like to come up there, but who's going to be the boss?'" Tiziani said. "Principled would be a good work for him."
Home in Madison, Nicki Stricker chuckled when she heard the "eat over your plate," description by her dad, Dennis.
"His dad's dad is pretty much the same mold, too," she said. "Steve's personality had everything to do with them and what they did. His grandfather was a carpenter and his dad an electrician, and for those things, there's a particular way things need to be done, and I think it carried over into how they raised their kids."
Bob Stricker was tough, but organized. Nicki described the back of his truck as immaculate. "You could eat off the floor," she said. "I've always felt how you are is totally reflective in how you play, the chances you take. Steve is a conservative guy. He thinks things through and he does that in whatever he does, playing golf, here at home, investing. All of that is totally how he plays."
And also how he speaks from the heart, without a filter. That was inherited too.
"We've heard from a lot of people today," Bob Stricker said. "I always tell people he takes after his mother, but they don't always believe that. As for being tenderhearted, we get very emotional, that's one of my traits also. It's kind of a joke among friends that he takes after his mother and not me. I guess not to that extent. But I can choke up."
Stricker knew for two months that he would be receiving the Stewart Award. While he never really connected with Payne personally, he did take inspiration from the way Stewart fought through a slump in his career.
"He's been stressing about it," Nicki said. "The last few days before he left, he just knew. He said, 'I know I'm going to cry.' But he wanted to make sure he got through all the things he had to say. He was coaching himself through it, and he's so good making a joke about it, it eases the situation. I told him, 'It's just the way you are. It's not going to change.' "
The Strickers were married at St. Peter Catholic Church in Madison, just across the street from Cherokee GC, where Steve famously put his game back together in a semi-wide. If he cried after winning the Stewart Award, imagine how he was during the wedding vows.
"No, he was bawling," Nicki said. "It was awesome, though."