Fred Couples wins Am Fam Championship, Steve Stricker finishes third

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.

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“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.”

Celebrity foursome plays to a tie at American Family Insurance Championship

MADISON, Wis. — The American Family Children’s Hospital will receive a $50,000 donation due to a tie in the celebrity foursome held at University Ridge during the American Family Insurance Championship. The pairings this year were Andy North and Darius Rucker versus Brett Favre and Derek Jeter.

Pre-Round Events

Prior to the start of the celebrity foursome teeing off for the nine-hole charity event, the group took time during their warm-up on the driving range to sign autographs for fans. A heavy contention of Jeter fans crowded the five-time All-Star.

Rucker was getting into his swing after Friday night’s concert at Breese Stevens Field in downtown Madison. He was warming up next to Brett Favre, a fan favorite who drew some 200 people to the driving range.

The Competition

The foursome started on hole No. 10, a 456-foot par four. The team of Favre and Jeter birdied that hole thanks to the long drive of the former Yankee. Rucker and North settled for par.

Favre and Jeter continued to show early domination, picking each other up when the other was off. Jeter converted a 35-foot putt which Favre had missed on the previous attempt.

Favre and Jeter wouldn’t show any signs of weakness until the chipping game allowed Rucker and North to catch up on hole 13.

Media Availability

All four celebrities were in good spirits, despite playing to a tie. They understood the outing was more about giving back to the community than winning individual accolades.

“The most important thing is raising money and awareness for children’s cancer [research],” Favre told reporters. “Wisconsin, I’m telling you…they support their people like no other and this is an obvious reflection of that.”

Favre noted that his reception by fans never gets old and that the Packers have only gotten bigger over the years. He mentioned the growth of the annual Family Night scrimmage, which this year takes place on Saturday, Aug. 5.

Stricker three shots out of the lead entering final round

MADISON, Wis. — Madison resident Steve Stricker put himself in position to win the second annual American Family Insurance Championship with a three-under-par 69 on Saturday.

It was the second of three rounds of the charitable PGA Champions Tour event, with Stricker entering Sunday’s final round of competition tied for fourth place, three shots behind leader Paul Broadhurst at an overall -12.

Stricker’s day started off on the right foot, playing to birdie on holes No.1 and No. 2. He settled for par the remainder of the front nine to end the first leg with a two-under-par 34. The back nine didn’t do Stricker any favors, finishing with a bogey on hole No. 12, a 200-yard par three. He saved his day with birdies on 15 and 16 to finish with a 69 on the day.

“Yeah, just keep plugging,” Stricker said of his mindset after the bogey. “…I kept telling myself ‘this next hole we’ll get one’ and I was patient. I hung in there, I’m still three [strokes] back and a lot of golf to play.”

Broadhurst followed up his first round 63 with a second round 69 to lead the field at -12. His six birdies made up for three bogeys on the day.

“I pulled a tee shot off the last, but it wasn’t a wild one,” Broadhurst said of his bogey on 18. “It was probably five yards left of the ideal, but with the world on the right, any place you can it is left and it cost me a bogey.”

A big first day at Am Fam Championship has Stricker, Kelly in contention

VERONA, Wisconsin | An estimated 15,000 fans took in round one of the inaugural 2016 American Family Insurance Championship. Tournament officials say just as many people showed up for today’s 1st round of year two of the Am Fam Championship at University Ridge golf course. Those that did saw Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly put on a show along with several other big name golfers.

Stricker shot a 6-under 66 good for 3rd place, three shots behind the leader Paul Broadhurst. Overall Stricker was pleased with his first round performance.

“I knew we got a good score in the first round,” said Stricker. “But it’s gonna take more of that or even better. There’s a lot of birdie opportunities.”

Madison’s Jerry Kelly also had a solid first round, carding a 4-under 68. Kelly got to five-under at one point but, like Stricker, is pleased with his performance and hopes for an even better weekend.

“I got it going early,” said Kelly. “It got the good feelings of being in Wisconsin and playing well. Hopefully I can have 36 more holes of great golf.”

Tournament Director Nate Pokrass was especially pleased with the large crowds who enjoyed near perfect conditions with sunny skies and temps in the high 70’s.

“As we anticipated, Wisconsin residents enjoy watching golf,” said Pokrass. “The crowds and their energy were fantastic. Many fans took advantage of the perfect weather to walk the course with their favorite players. In fact, some of the players said the tournament had a PGA TOUR feel.”

Tournament officials said they expect even larger crowds on Saturday, especially with the addition of the celebrity foursome of Derek Jeter, Brett Favre, Darius Rucker and Andy North. The foursome will tee off on the 10th hole at approximately 1:30 p.m., following the final group of tournament players, which includes Steve Stricker.

Here’s a look at the leaderboard after round one of the Am Fam Championship:

1 Paul Broadhurst -9 30 | 33 | 63

2 Brian Henninger -7 32 | 33 | 65

3 Steve Stricker -6 33 | 33 | 66

Kenny Perry -6 34 | 32 | 66

Billy Andrade -6 32 | 34 | 66

6 Kevin Sutherland -5 33 | 34 | 67

Fred Couples -5 35 | 32 | 67

Corey Pavin -5 33 | 34 | 67

Stephen Ames -5 33 | 34 | 67

Brandt Jobe -5 32 | 35 | 67

Jeff Maggert -5 33 | 34 | 67

Phillip Price -5 33 | 34 | 67

13 Scott Verplank -4 34 | 34 | 68

Jerry Kelly -4 32 | 36 | 68

John Riegger -4 34 | 34 | 68

Marco Dawson -4 35 | 33 | 68

Lee Janzen -4 32 | 36 | 68

Michael Allen -4 35 | 33 | 68

Jerry Smith -4 33 | 35 | 68

20 Mark Brooks -3 35 | 34 | 69

Steve Pate -3 36 | 33 | 69

Larry Mize -3 35 | 34 | 69

Kirk Triplett -3 33 | 36 | 69

Bill Glasson -3 32 | 37 | 69

Scott McCarron -3 33 | 36 | 69

Jake’s Take: Feel Good Golf

MADISON | In this week’s Jake’s Take, sports director Jake Zimmermann gives a feel good story involving golfing legend Fred Couples at University Ridge golf course.

This week belongs to the Am Fam Championship at U-Ridge. A slew of big time golfers are in attendance. Couples has been working hard to come back from a sore back. He needs all the time he can get on the driving range. But that didn’t stop him from taking time out of his day to invite a local family over to his spot.

To hear the entire story click on the link below:

Fred Couples: “I love Steve Stricker. Everything he does is first class.”

MADISON, Wisconsin | PGA TOUR Champions golfer Fred Couples was among the golfing legends competing in day two of the Pro-Am at University Ridge golf course in Madison on Thursday. Couples will take part in the American Family Insurance Championship Friday-Sunday at U Ridge.

Couples, who has been a force in golf ever since his first PGA Tour victory in 1982 at the Kemper Open, is still a fan favorite. A group of kids were asking for a picture with him while he was on the driving range Thursday. His reaction? “Sure! Come here.”

Keep in mind the driving range is off limits to the general public. And Couples needs all the practice he can get after spending most of last season and part of this one out with a sore back. But Couples not only made time for the kids and their Dad. He also spent a few minutes giving props to Steve Stricker for being who he is and for hosting the Am Fam Championship.

“I love Steve Stricker,” said Couples. “He’s been a friend forever. Everything he does is first class so I’m sure this is a great spot.”

Couples went on to talk about his longtime relationship with Stricker and explained why he’s so well liked among his peers.

“He’s very friendly and has a great family. He’s gonna be a perfect President’s Cup captain. He’s just easy to be around.”

Couples says he doesn’t know a whole lot about the city of Madison. He’s been here a couple times before for various golf events. But he’s going to take in the Darius Rucker concert at Breese Stevens Field on Friday night and will return to the Badger State to see his Seattle Seahawks take on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in September.

“I will  not have any Seahawks gear on. I won’t do that!”

Couples, who is 57 years old, says he will continue to play on the PGA Champions Tour as long as he’s competitive.

“If there comes a time I’m in 25th or 30th place, I can’t do that. My body is not strong enough anyone. Hopefully I have two or three more years. I keep saying that but hopefully.

Stricker excited for year two as tee times announced for Am Fam Championship (Audio)

MADISON | Steve Stricker admits year one of the PGA Champions Tour American Family Insurance Championship exceeded his expectations.

“Oh yeah,” said Stricker. “The money we raised exceeded our expectations.”

The 2016 American Family Insurance Championship made history in its first year, raising more than $1 million for charity. The total charitable proceeds of $1,089,500 was one of the highest-ever for a first-year PGA Champions Tour event. The money was distributed to the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wis., and 33 other local charities.

Stricker, who tees off on hole #1 at 9:30 a.m. Friday June 23rd at University Ridge Golf Course in Verona, hopes for more of the same this year.

Here are the tee times for round one of the American Family Insurance Championship that were announced Wednesday.

ROUND 1 | TEE #1:

8:50 a.m. —  Steve Flesch, Mike Goodes, Reidsville, Scott Simpson

9 a.m. — Brian Henninger, Mark Brooks, Steve Pate

9:10 a.m. — Larry Mize, Craig Parry, Scott Verplank

9:20 a.m. — Jim Schuman, Skip Kendall, Jerry Kelly

9:30 a.m. — Steve Stricker, Fred Couples, Kirk Triplett

9:40 a.m. — John Daly, Scott McCarron, Miguel Angel Jimenez

9:50 a.m. — Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo

10 a.m. — Stephen Ames, David Frost, Woody Austin

10:10 a.m. — Brandt Jobe, Olin Browne, Mark Calcavecchia

10:20 a.m. — Marco Dawson, Scott Dunlap, John Huston

10:30 a.m. — Michael Allen, Esteban Toledo, Jerry Smith

10:40 a.m. — Carlos Franco, Jeff Maggert, Doug Garwood

10:50 a.m. — Phillip Price, James Kingston, Fran Quinn

ROUND 1 | TEE #10

8:50 a.m. — Bob Tway, Kevin Sutherland, Rod Spittle

9 a.m. — Bob Gilder, Bart Bryant, Tom Byrum

9:10 a.m. — Dan Forsman, Joey Sindelar, Jerry Pate

9:20 a.m. — Tommy Armour III, Glen Day, Loren Roberts

9:30 a.m. — Todd Hamilton, Steve Lowery, Jay Don Blake

9:40 a.m. — Jim Carter, John Riegger, Russ Cochran

9:50 a.m. — Billy Mayfair, Michael Bradley, Corey Pavin

10 a.m. — Paul Goydos, Kenny Perry, Fred Funk

10:10 a.m. — Gene Sauers, Jeff Sluman, Jay Haas

10:20 a.m. — Billy Andrade, Lee Janzen, Wes Short, Jr.

10:30 a.m. — Duffy Waldorf, Joe Durant, Paul Broadhurst

10:40 a.m. — Scott Parel, Bobby Gage, Willie Wood

10:50 a.m. — Kent Jones, Mike Small, Tommy Tolles

Alternates:

1. Bill Glasson

2. Tom Purtzer

3. Blaine McCallister

4. Danny Edwards

5. John Jacobs

6. Brad Bryant

7. Bobby Wadkins

8. Mike Springer

9. Leonard Thompson

10. Mike Reid

Brooks Koepka rolls to his first major win at the 117th U.S. Open

Erin, Wis. — As dads around the country were be bathed in love and admiration by their children on Sunday, Brooks Koepka had failed to get his father anything. One of the most important men in building him into the man and golfer he’d become had gotten nothing from his oldest son on Father’s Day. But certainly his dad, Bob, was OK with it. Brooks was, after all, battling for his first major title at Erin Hills in the 117th U.S. Open.

Entering the day, the 27-year-old was just a shot back of the leader. By the end of it, he was four strokes clear of everyone, as he carded a 5-under-par 67 and won the tournament by shooting 16 under for the week, tying Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open record for lowest score in relation to par.

“I didn’t get him a card,” Koepka said of his father. “I really hope this (title) works.”

It obviously would be plenty for Bob Koepka or any father. It was the type of dominating final round that few thought was possible when wind gusts of 25 miles per hour bothered those early in the day. But Koepka brushed everything aside and went to work, especially on the back nine as he pulled away from the field. After a bogey on the 10th hole, the Florida State product birdied 14, 15 and 16 to build an insurmountable lead.

“I don’t think I ever got nervous. Not at one point. I just stayed in the moment,” Koepka said of his final round. “If I strayed from the game plan at all, I thought that’s where things were going to wayward and sideways.”

Things didn’t and he ended up stretching the streak to nine straight years where a first-time winner took the U.S. Open trophy home.

“It hasn’t even sunk in,” Koepka told reporters more than an hour after he walked off the 18th green.

Nearly every golfer that spoke after the tournament said it was just a matter of time for Koepka to get a major title, even if his only other win on the PGA Tour came more than two years ago. This is what they expected and now Koepka expects the same.

“I think I can win multiple times a year. I really do,” he said. “Hopefully, this is major No. 1, and there’s many more to come.”

Stricker with another strong round to finish the U.S. Open at 5-under

ERIN, Wis. — This wasn’t Steve Stricker’s first U.S. Open, and if he has his way, it won’t be his last. But the experience of being a part of the event’s first ever visit to Wisconsin is one that won’t leave him any time soon. From having to earn his spot by way of a qualifier tournament to the standing ovation he got as he made his way up the 18th fairway on Sunday, the 50-year-old Stricker managed to give himself and state golf fans countless special memories.

“There were so many cool moments,” Stricker said. “Walking up to every tee box and every green.

“The reception and the support I got all week long was just unbelievable. It was really cool.”

Stricker, like he did on Saturday, came tearing down the back nine. He birdied three of his final four holes as he approached the 18th hole. 24 hours earlier he bogeyed the 681-yard beast of a hole. This time around, though, he came through with a par to finish at 3-under for the round. It meant after shooting 1-over in the first two rounds, he was 6-under par for the weekend to finish 5-under for the week.

“To play well today on top of it was extra special,” he said. “And I’m glad I made it here. I’m glad I qualified and was able to play. It was a pretty special week all around.”

No one was quite sure what to expect from Stricker coming in. The Madison resident hadn’t played in the Open the last two years and was ranked 85th in the world coming in. The course, as long as it is, was supposed to work against him. Yet, as long hitters like Dustin Johnson failed to make the cut, Stricker finished in the top-20. As someone now eligible to play on the Champions Tour, the obvious question was if he envisions continuing to play in majors after efforts like this week.

“Yeah, as long as I can get in them, I’ll play them. This one was a challenge to get in,” Stricker said with a smile. “I’m excited about playing in all four of them this year. Yeah, as long as I can play in them, I would love to keep playing them.”

This week’s event was the last major scheduled to be played in Wisconsin, meaning it’s also likely Stricker’s last. Well, kind of. In his mind this week’s Champions Tour event at University Ridge in Madison, of which he’s the host for, is pretty big.

“The next major is next week,” Stricker said with a grin. “(The) Am Fam Championship.”

Stricker makes a push on moving day at the U.S. Open

Steve Stricker was so close to having a dream third round at the U.S. Open.

The 50-year-old, backed with a throng of vocal supporters watching his every move, charged down the back nine at Erin Hills on Saturday with birdies on three of his last four holes as he approached the par-5 18th. It’s a beast of a hole at 637 yards, and for someone that doesn’t hit it as far as he once did, it can be daunting. Stricker pulled out his 3-wood and took aim.

“(I was trying) to stay out of those bunkers and ended up putting it in one of them,” he said afterwards. “From there you’re behind the eight-ball.”

The Edgerton native still managed to give himself a chance at a long birdie putt, but missed that and would end up three putting, finishing the round with a 3-under 69, leaving him at 2-under for the tournament.

“Yeah, a little disappointing the way I finished there on 18,” Stricker said. “Really a solid day, though, all the way around. I made some saves when I had to. Made some good putts, but it would have been nice to get a birdie look at 18 instead of making a bogey.”

Still, it was a breakthrough for Stricker, who had a total of five birdies for the round that left him six shots off the lead when he left the course. And though it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to make a run up the leaderboard on Sunday, he at least gave himself an outside chance.

“It depends on the weather, I guess,” Stricker said when asked what he could shoot on the final day. “It’s tough. This is a tough course for me.

“(Still,) I expect to be where I’m at or better. I still feel like I’ve got some game. It’s coming a little harder, it seems like, on a regular basis. But I still feel like I do a lot of good things to compete out here.”

No matter what he shoots, he’ll have the crowd on his side. As he was coming down the 18th fairway, he got a standing ovation, and the cheers for his birdies could be heard all over the course grounds.

“I’ve been feeding off of them all week,” Stricker said of the crowd. “It’s been fun. The ovation I got going up 18 is unbelievable. The support all the way around has been tremendous.”