Steve Stricker Pre-Championship
BETH MAJOR: Welcome to the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, here in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. We’re joined by Steve Stricker who is playing in his 18th U.S. Open.
Steve, can you talk about someone who has an appreciation for the history of the game what it’s like to come and play at a place like Merion for the U.S. Open.
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, this is a special place and we were just talking that the last time I was here it was back in 1989 at the U.S. Amateur. Don’t remember much about it from that long ago. But remember at least that it was a great old course with a lot of history to it. One that I enjoyed playing, I remember, back in ‘89 and no different than today. It’s a great test. It’s drying up a little bit out there today but it’s just great to be here and looking forward to the week and getting it started.
BETH MAJOR: With your playing less this year, does that make it a little bit more special to come to something like this as well, to be back out for this week?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, it is. It’s easy to get fired up at home and to get ready and prepare for, especially the U.S. Open. So I’m excited to be here, still excited about the way I’ve been playing and from the few tournaments that have I played, my game still feels like it’s in good shape and I’m fresh, I’m rested, and excited to tee it up and see what kind of game I have come Thursday.
BETH MAJOR: Great. Thanks very much. We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Another student‑of‑the‑game type question. Did you take a moment to look at the plaque on 18 where Hogan hit the 1‑iron and in your estimation how hard was it to hit that shot with that club in this situation?
STEVE STRICKER: Nowadays most guys might be hitting a 7- or 6‑iron. That’s 200 yards to the front, conditions get firm and fast, at some point I can see some of those bigger hitters hitting maybe three clubs less than what he did. A 5- or 6- or 7‑iron maybe.
But back in the day when he hit that 1‑iron, it’s pretty incredible, really, when you think about it. The thing that strikes me the most, I’ve looked at that picture, I looked at the plaque, and it looks a lot shorter in person when you’re there than when you’re looking at it in that picture. But it’s a pretty cool thing when you sit there and look at it and what took place at the time and the kind of shot that he hit there. It’s a pretty cool sight to be right there on the spot.
Q. Two questions, do you think a 62 is possible this week and what’s it like teeing off on No. 1 with the patio being so close?
STEVE STRICKER: A 62 possible? I don’t see that number out there. Personally. But not to say somebody else doesn’t see that. But it’s still a U.S. Open, they’re still going to set it up very difficult. With wet conditions like we have, there are other challenges too. We may be able to drive it in the fairway a little bit easier, the ball may not run away on us in the fairway, but getting to some of these pin locations is still going to be difficult because now we’ve got to play for spin. So there’s still going to be a lot of challenges and it still at spots is a pretty long golf course.
I’ve been saying this is the longest short course I’ve ever played. Everybody’s told me how short it is and I’ve been wearing out 3‑irons and utilities into some of these holes. So it’s fairly long and it’s still going to be very difficult, I think.
Q. The first tee?
STEVE STRICKER: The first tee, we haven’t seen much. It’s kind of disappointing because they have us away from the clubhouse. Our locker room is over by the range in a tent, kind of got an AT&T Pebble Beach feel to it this week with rain and in a tent. So we haven’t been able to get over to the clubhouse that much. I haven’t even been in there. So that’s kind of disappointing that we’re not getting to take in all that history there at the clubhouse and being on that side of the course.
But yeah, it’s a neat atmosphere when you get over there and tee off on No. 1 and I played Sunday here before the rain and people were out there drinking and eating a little lunch and we’re ripping it right there 15 yards from them. So it’s pretty cool.
Q. Given what happened at Bethpage and Congressional was wet, seems like it’s going to be wet here, do you think of the U.S. Open as a soft and squishy event now or a hard and fast event like it is on the West Coast?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, typically we see it as a fast, firm, event. But it is just Mother Nature. They can’t control that. Yeah, I understand they got hit with a big storm on Friday or Saturday before we got here and then obviously what happened yesterday, it’s unfortunate. But the course itself is in great shape. And it’s drying up slowly. Hopefully we can miss the next couple of days. But, no, I think we all see the U.S. Open as a hard, firm, fast event.
Q. This venue here and playing Merion, do you feel this is one of your best opportunities to win a U.S. Open on this golf course?
STEVE STRICKER: I always feel comfortable coming to a U.S. Open; as comfortable as you can feel, I guess.
It’s a course where you, or a tournament where you need to be patient, keep it in play, par it to death and hopefully make a couple birdies in there somewhere. But from what I understand, this is a – I like the setup. I enjoy it. There’s a lot of short irons, sometimes, when you get into certain parts of the course, but there are also a lot of long clubs into some of these holes. So I think that still the advantage kind of goes to some longer hitters here just because we’re not getting any roll in the fairway at all.
But I like that there’s a lot of short irons. There’s a good mixture of shots here. There’s a good mixture of long and short. You don’t really get to play to your medium game too much, unless they move up some of the tees on the par‑3s. But there’s a lot of long holes and there’s a good amount of short holes too.
Q. Do you feel you’re going to have to be a couple under in the first 13 holes to keep pace?
STEVE STRICKER: I haven’t even thought about a score yet. I’ve just been trying to get my lines off the tees, I couldn’t even – I don’t even know when a winning score would be here to tell you the truth. At times I think it’s very difficult. I played the back nine today, I thought it played pretty difficult. It played long. But the majority of long holes are on the back side.
So I think you’re right, I think you need to make some hay there for the first 11, 12 holes and 13 holes there, and then kind of hang on, because there’s some great holes coming in.
Q. From what you remember from the ‘89 U.S. Amateur, did you have a 1‑iron in your bag, how much did you use it, and how in general did you even like that club?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I don’t remember hitting 1‑iron too much throughout my whole career. I carried – my longest iron was probably a 2‑iron. I think I tinkered with a 1‑iron sometime in my career but I couldn’t even tell you when, but it’s been a long time.
STEVE STRICKER: I don’t know, it was just hard to hit. I didn’t see much need for it. I think that – and I talked to you about this the other day but I think over at the British Opens I – earlier on in my career I think I may have put it into play over there, but since that utility club has come out, I’ve pretty much carried one of those.
Q. It’s an interesting mix of long 3s on this course, could you talk about the shots you’re facing on those holes and which is the hardest of the bunch?
STEVE STRICKER: They’re all good. The 13th is probably a real good scoring opportunity with a wedge in your hand.
No. 3, I couldn’t even reach. I’ve only played it once but the other day on Sunday I couldn’t even reach it with a 3‑wood. I was a little bit into the wind, I was about 240 yards to the front, uphill a little bit. Hopefully they move us up there one tee. From what I understand they may do that.
No. 9 was a 3‑iron. Really tough green. A little creek running in front and to the right. They put a back left location there, it’s going to be almost I think impossible to get to, I think, if we’re coming in there with some long iron. Depending if it stays soft or not, I guess.
And then 17, it’s probably one of the prettiest holes I’ve seen in a long time. It’s like walking into a stadium because the stands are on the left and behind the green and the hole’s kind of sunken down and just a pretty hole. But again today we were hitting 3‑wood into there. 250 some yards to that hole.
So it all depends how they’re going to set it up for us, whether they push us back there and make us hit something like a wood in there or the next tee up could be a utility or a long iron. So it’s kind of in their hands and they’re all good. If you can play these par‑3s this week in even par, you’re going to do well.
Q. Can you tell us about how you’re enjoying your limited schedule now, and tell us what you’re doing to fill the time.
STEVE STRICKER: I’m busier now than I ever have been for some reason, I don’t know what it is. I guess kids. People know that I’m playing less, so they’re asking me for things and to do things. I’m staying extremely busy.
We’ve got that foundation that we’re starting with American Family Insurance, so that’s taking up a lot of time, or some time. And then having kids. They take up time. And it’s fun to be around them and taking parts in their lives and doing some different things. It’s summertime, so we’ll get to spend some more time with them and go some different places. We’ve got some things planned this year. So it’s been a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it and, yeah, I wouldn’t change it right now. I really enjoy what I’m doing.
Q. I thought you were farming? Wasn’t that the deal?
STEVE STRICKER: I do a little bit that have too. I’m not a good farmer though. (Laughter.)
Q. I know that if this was a PGA Tour event no question by the time we get rain Thursday, to get it wetter and then it drys up, no question that there would be lift, clean and place. You’re not going to get lift, clean and place this week.
STEVE STRICKER: Right.
Q. Do you feel that maybe in the fairway that’s going to create a situation of where it’s going to be a little unfair? Some guy gets a mud ball, some guy doesn’t and that could ultimately decide the Tournament?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, and that’s the nature of that rule, I guess. And like at Augusta, where it’s pretty prevalent, most years, because the way they mow the fairways back at you, we seem to get a lot of mud balls there. It wasn’t too bad today, but it’s still really pretty sloppy and wet still. So I imagine once we get a little bit dryer, we may be starting to get a little bit more mud on the ball. And it is. It’s just golf, I guess, and we’ve got to deal with it even though we’re not going to be happy about it.
But I think the mud ball nowadays is more – we’re more apt to get a mud ball nowadays than we were even say even earlier on in my career. It seems like less mud affects the ball than it did earlier in my career. And I think the reasoning for that is that the balls have been made to spin less so the launch angle is a little bit higher with the new balls nowadays with less spin. So mud takes spin off, so it doesn’t take much mud to really affect that ball. And earlier on in my career balls spun a lot more, so you still got mud balls, but nowadays it takes very little mud to affect the ball. So it’s unfortunate, but we’re going to have to deal with it, I think. And yeah, it could decide who the champion is here this week, unfortunately.
Q. On 18, especially having a long iron in, the hole that you have to actually hit a really good drive just to have a long iron in, obviously the longer the club, the more that mud ball is going to go in bad places. Are you doing it, are you dropping balls and practicing and around the green for that eventuality?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, yeah, you’re always practicing around the greens. I haven’t practiced any mud balls yet. Today I only played nine holes. But we didn’t get any mud on the balls today. But we could as it drys up. But, yeah you’re always practicing around the greens, because you know you’re going to miss some greens here and the rough is thick, so you want to make sure you get a good understanding of how to play the shots around the greens.
Q. I’m not sure you have 18 more U.S. Opens in you, how do you manage the expectations, your own expectations? I’m sure that you want to win a major at some point before you’re through and do you feel more of a sense of urgency as the years go by?
STEVE STRICKER: I don’t. I’m kind of past that. I think that the decision that I made earlier this year about playing less has taken some of the pressure off me. I think I’m completely fine with my career and what I’ve done. And don’t get me wrong, I’m still very competitive and I still really want to win. I still want to play well. But I’m just enjoying it. I’m enjoying coming out here and playing and not really having any expectations at all. And that’s kind of taken some of the pressure off.
Q. Do you remember what you were doing the week of the U.S. Open in ‘81 and if you watched any of it on TV, if you remember any of it?
STEVE STRICKER: I don’t remember at all. I would have been about 14. No idea. Probably playing baseball or something. I don’t even remember.
BETH MAJOR: Steve, thanks so much for joining us today. We wish you well this week.