Stricker finally wins a USGA title with a commanding performance at Notre Dame
Steve Stricker played the final round of the 40th U.S. Senior Open as carefully as an accountant checking his figures during tax season. He wasn’t going to take any chances. He wasn’t going to tolerate any errors. He went for solid numbers.
The return was mighty fine.
With a calculated and cautious 1-under-par 69 on a sweltering Indiana afternoon, Stricker registered a resounding six-stroke victory to capture his first USGA title. By finishing at 19-under 261, Stricker set the championship record for lowest aggregate total and tied the record for margin of victory held by Gary Player and Fred Funk.
Along the way, Stricker, 52, also established new scoring marks after 36 and 54 holes on the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame in South Bend, the first college course to host this championship. Leader after each round, Stricker opened with scores of 62-64 for a 126 total, three better than the previous mark. When he added a third-round 66, his 192 total through 54 holes also beat the previous record by three shots.
He became the ninth man to win the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy in his first try. Call it long-overdue compensation for a lifetime of USGA frustration, including 20 U.S. Open starts where he came up short. A national championship, even for the 50-and-over, set, is a big deal.
“There’s been a lot of years trying to get one of these [USGA trophies],” he said, holding back tears. “Yeah, I won some nice events on the [PGA] Tour, but being a major out here, being a USGA event, a national championship, even though it’s on the senior level, it’s still very special. You know, like I said, I always held these USGA events to a higher standard. You wanted to play well at them. So this one here is probably the top.”
Making the victory even sweeter was that Stricker entered the week coming off a playoff loss to good friend and fellow Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly at the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, where Stricker is the host.
More than once during the week, Stricker admitted that the loss was “eating at me.” He didn’t sleep for two nights, racked by disappointment. But the best medicine awaited at the Warren Course, where he was the only player to break par in each round.
Playing with new purpose and an old set of irons he broke out of mothballs just this week, Stricker suffered just two bogeys in 72 holes, tying Craig Stadler’s record. This after making just one bogey at the Regions Tradition the month prior, where he won his first senior major. His 57 straight holes on the Warren Course without a bogey was 14 holes better than the previous championship mark.
“I’ve never really seen him play better. He had his sights set on this after losing … and so did I,” said Steve’s wife, Nicki, who like her husband felt a combination of elation and relief after making up for the playoff loss in their hometown.
Stricker didn’t have to do anything special in the final round because no one came after him. Defending champion David Toms, who opened with a 62 to share the first-round lead with Stricker, closed with a 68 to end up at 13-under 267 for the best finish by a defending champion since Colin Montgomerie finished second in 2015. Kelly, playing alongside Stricker in the final pairing, had a 69 to tie Toms, registering his second straight runner-up finish in the championship.
The triumph, emotional and redemptive after losing to Kelly the week prior, was most importantly, fulfilling because Stricker got to share the win with Nicki, who caddied for him, and with his daughters, who walked every step of the way for 72 glorious holes.
The only suspense of the afternoon came when Stricker made his first bogey in 57 holes at the par-4 10th while Kelly birdied from 5 feet. The two-shot swing cut the margin to five strokes. But Stricker soon restored it to six by chipping in from 46 feet for birdie at the par-3 12th.
He even called the shot, sort of. “Nicki and I had been talking that we've been looking for a chip-in,” Steve said, “and I said right before I chipped it, ‘I'm still looking for that chip-in,’ and she's like, ‘I am, too.’ So maybe the power of us both thinking about it, it came true. It was a pivotal moment because even though the lead was still five shots, anytime you lose some of a lead, it gets your attention. So that was huge.”
From there, the Strickers and their daughters, Bobbi and Isabelle, enjoyed the walk in. For Steve, that meant more than anything as they embraced on the 18th green while their photo was being taken. Three hugs beats a six-shot victory.
“Having them here,” Stricker said, “really made this week special. It’s like a family affair on tour for us this year, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
|Steve Stricker is the ninth player to win the U.S. Senior Open in his first attempt, and the third wire-to-wire champion with ties.|
|Stricker is the first player to win with four rounds in the 60s since Roger Chapman in 2012.|
|Stricker was first in the field in strokes gained-putting; he holed 12 putts of 10 feet or longer. He also led the field in scrambling at 89 percent.|
|Tom Watson (T-17) made it a record 17-for-17 in U.S. Senior Open cuts made and matched or bettered his age (69) three times in four rounds. He later announced it was his final Senior Open.|
|Scott McCarron carded the round of the day on Sunday, a 6-under 64, moving from a tie for 46th to a tie for sixth.|
|Qualifiers Doug Garwood and Fran Quinn each posted even-par 70s on Sunday to earn a share of 14th place. The low 15 and ties are exempt into next year’s championship at Newport (R.I.) Country Club.|