Ask one 2020 Ryder Cup question to Wisconsin native Steve Stricker and it’s obvious that one week in late September will be the pinnacle of his 25+ year professional golf career. After playing the role of Vice Captain during two Ryder Cups, two President’s Cups, and captaining the 2017 President’s Cup to victory, the 51-year-old has an opportunity to stem the tide of European Ryder Cup domination in his home state at Pete Dye’s lakefront gem, Whistling Straits. Midwest Golfing Magazine caught up with Steve as he looks to bring the cup home and is thrilled to document his answers with our latest edition of Midwest Golfing Personals.
Obviously you have been in a team environment both as a player and vice-captain numerous times in your career, but did the 2019 President’s Cup competition feel different or more satisfying based upon Tiger being captain, the team’s emotional response to the amazing comeback, and the fact you will be captaining many of the same players 10 months from now?
It was extremely satisfying for sure. Anytime Tiger is around and on these teams it’s special. The week in Australia as vice-captain to Tiger was a great experience, and to watch him play a dual role as player/Captain was pretty cool to say the least. Being a part of it all and being able to help him with his goals that week was a tremendous honor and watching the guys respond and win on Sunday was something I will never forget.
How do you believe your summer schedule will play out as you juggle your playing and captain’s responsibilities?
Come summer time I will probably play a little bit more on the regular tour to be around some of the guys, although a few of the tournaments they are playing in I can’t even get in so we’ll have to see how that works out. But I will try to play out there as much as I can while still dabbling on the Champions Tour as well. I just want to make sure that I see everybody, and that I am available to everybody. In 2019, I played Bay Hill and got paired up with Keith Mitchell, who had just won on tour. I played with Patrick Cantlay at last year’s PGA Championship who has been playing some great golf lately. That helps, when I can go out there and see our potential players up close and personal.
Two years ago, American Captain Jim Furyk was paired with Tony Finau at PGA Championship a few weeks before Furyk’s captains pick were due. Are you anticipating doing the same and do you have the authority to request playing partners throughout the year?
You can request that from the PGA Tour on regular tour events, and say I’d love to play with this guy or that guy. Other captains have done that in the past, and I will probably do the same.
How much has the Ryder Cup taken over your day-to-day life recently?
I think about it every day. I think about what we can do, what things can be the same, what things can be different, what we can do with the course setup at Whistling Straits to help us. I will view the course throughout the year and make recommendations. I also think about what kind of message do I want to bring to the table, just everything – there is a lot to think about and it’s an important part of my career and an important part of Wisconsin golf history this September. To be leading the team is exciting, and I know it’s special to the guys that will be playing.
What would you like to see out of Whistling Straits during Ryder Cup week?
We will probably go down the route that Hazeltine CC (2016 host venue in Minnesota) was set up. We can’t make pin placements or anything like that, but we can make suggestions on the width of the fairways, the height of the rough, cutting out or cutting in a certain area of the fairway. We can make those suggestions now and then the course can try to prepare throughout the year.
How involved will you be with everything behind the scenes at the Ryder Cup?
The captain has a voice on everything from the pictures on the wall to every other small detail. We give ideas to the PGA of America, they in turn give us ideas which we look over – they’ve got a team, I’ve got a team with my wife Nikki and my agent Mario and we figure out what we are going to do. I know it’s going to go by in a hurry. I am busier now than ever; I thought at this stage I would be less busy. But after the 2020 Ryder Cup I’ll be able to sit back and play more on the Champions Tour and enjoy that which will be nice.
When you were struggling with your game in the early 2000s’ did you ever think you’d be a Ryder Cup captain 20 years later?
As I was going through my slump between 2003 through 2005, I would have never thought all these amazing opportunities would come my way. I’ve really had two careers, pre-2005 and post-2005. To be able to still play, to be part of part Ryder and President Cup teams has been remarkable and something I couldn’t have even dreamed about back then. I was just trying to get my game back – it’s been a great blessing and a phenomenal journey.
With Europe’s domination over the past 25 years, do you feel you are the underdog even though you are on home soil? Do you like that feeling of being the hunter instead of the hunted?
Obviously, we have the home crowd advantage, but as the actual event goes we are little bit of the underdogs. I just had Paul McGinley (2014 European Team Captain) tell me that the Europeans are thrilled they are coming to Whistling Straits because this venue fits their style, they don’t feel it’s an American style course, they feel it’s more of a links style, which it is, and that Lake Michigan feels like one of their seas. Plus, many of their players have had good finishes here in past majors. We’ll combat that by getting our guys to Whistling Straits as much as possible to get familiar with the layout so hopefully that gives us an advantage.
The 43rd Ryder Cup Matches will be held from September 25-27th, 2020, on the Straits course at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wisconsin. Team Europe is the reigning cup holder after its 17½–10½ victory over Team USA in 2018 at Le Golf National. For more information on the biennial event, visit www.rydercup.com