It was May, the second round of the 2023 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Texas. Steve Stricker had just captured one senior major (Regions Tradition) and was chasing another. He faced a 207-yard approach to the front edge of the par-5 finishing hole at PGA Frisco’s Fields Ranch East, normally a 4- or 5-iron for the steady Stricker. With trouble lurking everywhere around the green, Stricker devised a different strategy.
He hit one wedge short of the trouble in front, another wedge close, and converted his birdie putt. That’s Steve Stricker. He always seems to find a way.
“I made a 4,” Stricker said, hardly apologizing. “I mean, that’s the goal.”
He would shoot 67, follow it with weekend rounds of 64-69, and turn away Ireland’s Padraig Harrington in a playoff. It was the second of three senior majors Stricker would win in 2023; he later would add the Kaulig Companies Championship (formerly Senior PLAYERS) at Firestone. He nearly won a fourth major, too, finishing second at the U.S. Senior Open at SentryWorld, in his home state of Wisconsin.
Following a season impeded by a mysterious illness that left Stricker, who had captained the U.S. Team to victory in the 2021 Ryder Cup, weak and bedridden for the early portion of 2022, Stricker’s goal a year later was to get back to winning golf. People marvel at Bernhard Langer, who at 65 became the all-time leader in PGA TOUR Champions victories (46), and was the one to beat Stricker in Wisconsin. But at 56, Stricker, too, is a marvel. In 2023, he played some of the best golf of his life.
Stricker was unable to travel to Arizona this week for the Charles Schwab Championship. His father, Bob Stricker, was admitted to a hospital on Monday and the younger Stricker stayed behind in Wisconsin. The fact he did not have to compete in the PGA TOUR Champions’ three-tiered Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs yet still secured the Charles Schwab Cup and its $1 million bonus speaks to exactly how dominant Stricker’s 2023 season was.
Consider some of the numbers: In addition to winning three majors and finishing second in a fourth, Stricker added three other victories (Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, American Family Insurance Championship and Sanford International) among his 16 starts. Five other times he was a runner-up. Only once, a tie for 15th in his final start, the Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS, did Stricker finish worse than T8. Had he played in Phoenix, he was guaranteed to own the Champions Tour’s first $4 million season, finishing at $3,986,063.
Stricker was first in scoring (69.54), Scrambling (74.5%), Putting (1.683), Putts Per Round (28.25) and One-Putt Percentage (39.42%). A lot of Champions Tour players can hit it past Stricker (284.3-yard average), but he was 13th in Driving Accuracy (73.87%) and second in Greens in Regulation (76.39%).
Ernie Els was asked at the TimberTech Championship what about Stricker’s incredible season stood out to him.
“His consistency,” Els said. “All disciplines of his game really work. His short game, his wedge game, his driving and obviously his putter. He’s always a good putter. You keep making those putts, that keeps getting that 66 on the board. And he’s a competitor.”
Fellow PGA TOUR Champions standout Jerry Kelly has played golf with Stricker since the two were juniors in Wisconsin, and they are good friends. He laughs at Stricker’s reputation as the polite, quiet neighbor who lives next door, because he knows that Stricker in the midst of competition becomes a completely different person.
“This game burns in him as hard as anybody, and he’s seen the other side, where he had those tough years,” Kelly said. “It put a chip on his shoulder.
“He’s basically an animal out there. He really is. We are best of friends, like brothers, and you fight hardest against your brother. We want to beat each other so bad. But that spurs us, because we’re truly happy with the other person’s success, too. It’s a great dynamic.”
Stricker now has won seven senior majors, tying him with Hale Irwin for fourth all-time. The fiery competitor that lives inside of Stricker still wants to measure his game against those younger stars that he has captained on winning U.S. Presidents Cup (2017) and Ryder Cup teams (2021). Stricker’s victory at the KitchenAid Senior PGA gets him to Southern Hills (Tulsa, Oklahoma) for the PGA Championship in May. And his three-shot triumph over David Toms at the Kaulig Companies Championship at Firestone earned him a spot in THE PLAYERS in March. He has appeared at THE PLAYERS only once since 2018. It was a goal to get back.
The Stricker family had quite a year in golf. Older daughter Bobbi Stricker, winner of the 2021 Wisconsin Women’s Amateur, is playing professionally now. Stricker’s youngest daughter, Izzi, is a high school standout who has won back-to-back individual girls’ state tournament titles in Wisconsin. (She has signed to play for the home-state Badgers.) And don’t forget Nicki, Steve’s wife. She qualified for her first USGA event in more than 30 years, making it to the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur in Arizona.
As often is the case with him, Stricker spilled over with emotion after winning his third senior major of the season, choking up as he spoke to Golf Channel’s Billy Ray Brown on Firestone’s 18th green.
“I get so emotional because we put so much into it,” he said.
Six wins? Three majors? Five runner-up finishes?
“Yeah, I’m just having a ball,” Stricker said. “I’m enjoying the ride and you know, just hopefully continue.”
Add the Charles Schwab Cup to his list. Quite a year.