November 25, 2007

Newsmakers 2007: Steve Stricker

Rarely has one man's happiness been shared so thoroughly by fellow competitors as when Steve Stricker completed his return from golf's black hole with a triumph at the Barclays. Stricker's conquest was his first since the 2001 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Australia, half a planet away. That seemed somehow appropriate because Stricker's career path constituted a round trip from excellence to desperation and back. The excursion was bumpy and unusually fast. In 2003 Stricker finished 188th on the money list with a measly $150,590. This year he finished fourth with $4.66 million, capped by that playoff victory in New York that propelled him to second place in the FedEx Cup derby. In 2005 Stricker was 337th on the World Ranking. In 2006, when he won comeback player of the year honors, he was No. 63. This year he vaulted to No. 4. Most everybody said it couldn't happen to a nicer guy, including Tiger Woods, who noted, "Stricks should win comeback [player] of the year again." (He's a nominee.) Even Stricker expressed amazement at his dramatic U-turn. "There was a point, a few years ago, when I actually didn't know whether I could do this anymore," he said. "Then I realized this is what I do and what I wanted to do." After a series of equipment changes and mood swings, Stricker hunkered down to rediscover his talent, his tempo and, last but not least, his confidence. "That's the big thing," said caddie/friend Tom Mitchell. "Not long ago, Steve wouldn't have felt like he belonged in the final group with Tiger on a Sunday. Not anymore." At age 40, Stricker celebrated his banner season with nine top-10s, a $3 million playoff bonus and a well-earned berth on America's victorious Presidents Cup team. He could savor his winter back home in Wisconsin with family, while hunting or practicing in the snow belt and knowing that his success was also a source of joy among admiring peers.