USA Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker is relishing the chance to lead the US into battle in his home state of Wisconsin – and making amends for that battering in Paris...
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Steve Stricker’s habit of producing the goods late in the year earned him the nickname ‘Mr September’ in a career that saw him win 12 times on the PGA Tour. The good fortune never quite followed him into Ryder Cups, however, with Stricker featuring six times but only twice coming out on the winning side. His last three appearances – in 2014, 2016 and 2018 – saw him learning the Ryder Cup ropes as a vice-captain. Now, ahead of him leading the US into battle, he explains to TG how his preparation has gone...
So how is your team shaping up?
Very nicely. The top six players are starting to play well again and it’s always going to be about jockeying for positions for the last six spots, but we’ve got a good mix of young players and veterans.
What have you learnt from your past Ryder Cup experiences?
A lot. You learn something from every captain and as a player you pick up things, too. But I think I learnt more as an assistant captain because I’m behind the scenes helping out with the pairings and watching guys and how they’re playing. As a player, you’re really just taking care of yourself, getting your game ready.
Does it get any better than being Ryder Cup captain of your country in your home state?
I never dreamt I’d be a Ryder Cup captain, let alone be the captain in Wisconsin, so I’m very humbled, very excited. Thankfully, all indications are that we’ll be able to have full crowds here; the state of Wisconsin is opening up again, so we’re very hopeful with that.
After the heavy loss in Paris in 2018, is revenge in the air?
I’m not sure whether revenge is the right word, but neither side likes to lose. The thing is, the same 12 who were in Paris won’t be in Wisconsin. Those who were in Paris are sure going to feel the need to right the ship and get back on the winning side of things, but we’re going to have some guys who weren’t there last time so they come into the event without that scar tissue... but still knowing the event means a lot. Both sides want to win. Badly.
Why do you think Europe have been so dominant in recent years?
They’ve just played better than us! They’ve made the putts they’ve had to make. The stats show we made as many birdies as Europe did in Paris, or it was very close, but we made a lot of mistakes, a lot of bogeys and doubles, and we gave the Europeans a lot of holes we shouldn’t have. But I look back and things could easily have gone the other way – we won in 2008; 2010 was really close; we blew a four-point lead in 2012; in 2014 we got waxed at Gleneagles; and we won in 2016. So take away 2010 and 2012 and those could have flipped pretty easily. This time we’ve got to be the ones that make the putts.
Does having six picks make your job easier or harder?
It probably makes it a bit harder. The reason we did this was we didn’t know howvthe pandemic would act out and how manyvtournaments we’d get to play. I guess I get to make a couple more phone calls to tell guys they’ve made the team, so that’ll be nice. But there’s probably more calls I’m going to have to make to players who didn’t make the team.
Has Phil Mickelson’s PGA Championship victory put him in the frame?
Good question. I’ve got to talk to him and I know he’d dearly love to be on the team. It was an unbelievable thing he did at the PGA, but he also knows that one event – and this is coming from him – doesn’t justify him making the team. He needs to back that up for the rest of the summer.
What do you make of the social media spat between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau?
It doesn’t make me happy. It’s my job to make sure we all get along. They’re two very competitive guys who I’m sure will be on the team, so it’ll be up to me to pull them aside and make sure we’re all pulling in the same direction. It’s key we unite as a team.
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What are the chances of Tiger Woods being available as a vice-captain?
It’s a real possibility and I’ve talked to him. He’s all in to help us, whether that’s from home – if he’s unable to be there – or at Whistling Straits if he can be. He’s a great friend, a guy that everyone looks up to in the team room. They love to be around him and have his input.
What are your best and worst Ryder Cup moments?
The best would have been 2008, being part of that winning team led by Paul Azinger, who did a great job. It was great fun, we had a great time and we played very well.
Worst? Medinah in 2012 when we had that four-point lead and squashed that... we didn’t do what we needed to do on Sunday. I didn’t get a point that year and was actually the guy Martin Kaymer made that putt against to clinch it for Europe, so that was not a great feeling. I try to put that to the back of my mind!
Any special plans on the course set-up at Whistling Straits?
I haven’t messed around with it too much and it will be pretty much like the guys play here on a weekly basis. I know it doesn’t look like a typical US course, but it plays like one. It’s not really that linksy, and the way the conditions are you don’t really roll the ball up there – it’s all through the air.
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