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It’s time to acknowledge the gall of the House of Stricker on a golf course, for it has been a sight to behold these last two months. The family is enjoying a collective run, punctuated by the patriarch capturing the most handsome prize in senior golf in a manner that was equal parts impeccable and impudent.
Steve Stricker registered a resounding six-stroke victory Sunday in the 40th U.S. Open Championship, shooting a cautious 1-under 69 on the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame. At 19-under 261, Stricker, 52, set the championship record for lowest aggregate total after establishing new scoring marks after 36 and 54 holes.
He tied the record for margin of victory with Gary Player (1987) and Fred Funk (2009). The triumph, emotional and redemptive after losing in a playoff to Kelly the week prior, was, most importantly, fulfilling because Stricker got to share the win with his wife, Nicki, who caddied for him, and with his daughters, who walked every step of those glorious 72 holes.
“Having them here,” Stricker said on the 18th green as the sun still glittered above, “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.”
Fun because, as older daughter Bobbi said, “we are on a roll.”
Yes, all of them.
In May, just weeks after Steve won his first major at the Regions Tradition, Bobbi, who just completed her sophomore season for the University of Wisconsin women’s golf team, enjoyed her career-best finish in the Big Ten Championship with a share of 38th place.
Then Isabelle – she goes by Izzi – might have given her dad an avenue for returning to Augusta National Golf Club next year when she won a local qualifier of the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at the Oaks Golf Club in Madison in late June. Should it be any surprise that she scored the maximum 60 points in the putting discipline?
She’ll next compete in a sub-regional, and if all goes well, the regional, the last hurdle to clear for a visit to the home of the Masters.
But maybe dad will get there first. He might eschew the year’s final two senior majors and make his next start at the John Deere Classic, where he has won three of his 12 PGA Tour titles. He was still wrestling with the decision Sunday night.
“He’s playing well enough,” Nicki said. “A win and we go back to the Masters.”
Nicki was savoring this win as much or more than her husband. Steve said she took the playoff loss at the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison – a PGA Tour Champions event that Steve hosts – harder than he did.
Nicki revealed the reason on Sunday. Steve had asked her to help him read the potential 8-foot winning putt on the final hole. Nicki is no slouch as a golfer. She played four years for the University of Wisconsin women’s team and finished fourth in the 1991 Big Ten Championship. Her father, Dennis Tiziani, was the Wisconsin men’s golf coach for nearly 30 years and has been Steve’s swing coach longer than that.
Steve Stricker and his wife/caddie, Nicki, celebrate his 46-foot chip-in on No. 12 during the final round. (USGA/Chris Keane)
When Steve missed the putt and then lost to Kelly in the playoff, Nicki felt responsible. “I had never been in that situation before,” she said. “I didn’t help him. This definitely makes up for that."
Bobbi and Izzi saw the next day how disappointed their parents were, which made Sunday’s proceedings that much sweeter.
“It was so cool. I was so happy that they got to experience that together,” said Bobbi, 20. “I mean, I don’t think they won one together since when they first went out on tour.”
That would have been before Bobbi was born. Nicki surrendered the bag when she was pregnant with Bobbi, but they did, in fact, win together last September on the PGA Tour Champions at the Sanford International, as Nicki has more often in recent months been the caddie of choice.
When the girls ventured onto the 18th green after their dad putted out to seal this victory, Izzi, 13, wiped away a few tears. She hugged dad first, but she hung onto mom a bit longer. “I didn’t think I was going to cry, but I couldn’t help it,” she said, able to smile a bit later. “I know it just meant so much to them.”
Crying is OK. Dad has famously broken down after each of his 12 wins on the PGA Tour and now after this, his first USGA championship title. “I knew that was going to happen eventually,” Steve said as he clutched the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy.
Of all the wins in his career, Stricker said winning the national championship, 50-and-older division, means the most to him because, “I’ve always held USGA events to a higher standard. “I’ve had a chance to win a few U.S. Opens and I kind of faded away on the last day, so this is very special.”
Of course, nothing is more precious than the family celebration that the four were going to enjoy. Their big plan was to drive home to Madison Sunday night. Those Strickers know how to party. “But we’ll all be smiling,” Bobbi said.
It’s been quite a whirlwind for the House of Stricker. Dad couldn’t have been happier because he’s shared it with Nicki and their girls. Three hugs beats a six-shot win.
The family is, indeed, rolling.
“Yeah, you know, we love golf, and we all play it,” Stricker said. “My wife plays a lot. My daughters are getting into it more and more all the time. And they see the work ethic that I put in and Nicki puts in, too. She works at her game very hard. So I think it kind of runs downhill, runs downhill to the kids, and they see that work ethic and they, too, want to get better. They want to perform in tournaments.
“But they see what I go through. They enjoy being out here. I enjoy having them out here. It brings us all together.”
Could any reward be sweeter?