MADISON — An emotional and draining few weeks came to an end Sunday afternoon for Steve Stricker.
The Madison resident, who needed a qualifier just to get into the first-ever U.S. Open in Wisconsin earlier in June, and then went and finished in the top-20 against the best players in the world in that tournament last week, was just off the course after his final round of the American Family Insurance Championship when he walked up to speak with reporters. The exhaustion was all over his face, but just how drained was he?
“I’m tired,” Stricker said with a grin. “This is six out seven weeks playing, and the last two have been full of excitement and pressure. It’s been great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m ready for a little time off and to get away from the game a little bit.”
Despite being tired, Stricker came on strong down the stretch, shooting a 3-under-par 69 on Sunday, coming in at 12 under for weekend, good enough to finish in a tie for third.
But no one could keep up with Fred Couples, who took the lead midway through his round and went on to shoot a 66, winning by two strokes over Scott Verplank.LISTEN: Fred Couples talks about his win.
“It was one of those days where you’re trying to press, you’re trying to catch (Couples), and that makes it harder,” said Stricker, who served as the host of the tournament. “It’s harder to make putts when you have to, and that’s kind of where I felt like I was at today. I had to make them, and I just didn’t.”
Like they did a week earlier at Erin Hills for the U.S. Open, large crowds followed Stricker’s grouping wherever it went during the three-day event at University Ridge. And while it may have added a little pressure to Stricker’s round, Couples reveled in it.
“I made a putt at 18 (on Saturday), which put me in a pairing with (Stricker),” Couples said. “That was a big deal because everyone knows there will be 15,000 people all following Steve and I wanted to be in that group. It gets your heart rate going.”
It was Couples’ second win on the Champions Tour this year, as he also took home the title at the Chubb Classic in Florida back in February. But this win came after not playing the last seven weeks thanks to his ongoing battle with his own body breaking down as he gets older.
“He’s a tremendous talent. He’s always been a great player. Why would it stop now? He showed us why he is the type of player that he is,” Stricker said.
“He forced everybody to come and get him and nobody could.”
Stricker was fine with the result.
“That’s OK,” the 50-year-old said. “[Walking up 18] I’m like, ‘Well, if you win now, you have to come back.’ He’s like, ‘I’ll be back.’ So all good things.”
The same could be said of the last few weeks for Stricker. He wasn’t expected to make it into the U.S. Open but did. Few thought he had chance to compete on a monstrous course like Erin Hills, but he silenced any doubters with his performance. And then, in his first chance to play in his own tournament, he more than held held his own. Throw in the money raised for the UW Children’s Hospital this past week and things couldn’t have played out much better for Stricker’s hectic June.
“This just tops it all off,” Stricker said. “It was a tremendous week on all counts.”