Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker come up just short at American Family Insurance Championship

MADISON — On Friday, Steve Stricker told reporters that events on the Champions Tour are “do-it-every day” type of tournaments because they last only three days, one less than on the main PGA Tour. Unfortunately for the Madison resident, he only played well on two of the three days, which led to his three-way third-place finish in the American Family Insurance Championship at University Ridge this weekend.

“[It’s] a microcosm of my year, really,” said Stricker, who shot 13-under for the tournament. “Some really good things and then throw some not-so-good things. Like yesterday, the whole round yesterday, that was the worst round I’ve played all year on any of the tours. That just killed me. If I could have just shot even par yesterday it would have given me a better opportunity.”

Instead, he shot a 2-over par 74, leaving him a 6-under coming into Sunday. Not even a very good round of 65 could get him to the top of the leaderboard.

Fellow Wisconsin native, Jerry Kelly, was also in the mix coming down the stretch, spending time in first place at 14-under. But he, like Stricker, couldn’t top Scott McCarron, who earned his first tour win of the year by shooting an 8-under 64 in the final round to finish at 15-under.

“I really thought it was going to happen,” Kelly said of him winning on what some might call his home course. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been on 16 and 17.”

Stricker was several holes in front of both Kelly and McCarron and knew the type of score he was going to need to win. But he missed birdie putts on the 17th and 18th holes that would have got him there.

“When we were coming in, I told Nicki (his wife and caddie) we’ve got to try to get to 15 [under],” Stricker said. “I saw that these guys are behind me, so I knew that they had the same holes to try to birdie as I did. I just thought that I needed to get to that number and just came up a little bit short. Had the opportunities, I just didn’t make those putts I needed to coming in.”

Kelly also had opportunities that he wasn’t able to convert, which were still on his mind afterwards.

“I’m disappointed, there’s no doubt,” Kelly said. “I want those putts back. I want to just go ahead and hit them hard, who cares what happens.”

In the end, though, both were pleased with the week overall, especially Stricker, who serves as host a tournament that is about a lot more than just golf. Nearly all the events this week, including a big concert Friday night, served as a fundraiser for the American Family Insurance Children’s Hospital.

“We’re fortunate the word is out that we’re doing some good things here, and obviously we’re raising monies for charities,” Stricker said. “But to get the support from the community and players alike [is great].”

Team Favre wins celebrity foursome at American Family Insurance Championship

MADISON — While the story of the day on Friday at the American Family Insurance Championship was how well tournament host Steve Stricker played, Saturday wasn’t the same.

The reasoning behind that was not only Stricker’s rough day (2-over for the day, 6-under for the tournament), but also the celebrity foursome that took place in the afternoon.

Lee Trevino, Andy North, Derek Jeter, and Brett Favre all took on the back-nine at University Ridge once the final group of the day had passed on through.

Trevino and North are both two-time U.S. Open winners, Jeter will one day find himself as a member of baseball’s hall of fame — likely as soon as he’s eligible in 2019 — and Favre is a three-time NFL MVP and a Super Bowl champion. It would be rather difficult to assemble a more accomplished foursome.

The group started on the 10th hole and they were individually introduced. As imagined, Favre received the loudest ovation.

The foursome split in teams of two, with North and Favre making up one team while Jeter and Trevino composed the second.

Things stayed close throughout the nine-hole event, as neither team opened up more than a one-stroke lead the entire time.

Obviously, North and Trevino were both excellent golfers in their day and still have some of what made them great when they were on tour. Trevino — at 79 years of age — can’t quite generate the club speed as the other three, but he still knew his way around the course.

“These guys [on tour] are swinging at 115 miles an hour, average 113,” Trevino said prior to the round. “I’m not even in the 90s any more. I don’t know if I was in the 90s I guess in my heyday.”

He couldn’t quite keep up with the others distance wise, but he was still pretty solid on the course, and certainly a treat to be around.

One of the more enjoyable things for spectators was the ability to hear when the players were saying to each other when they were within earshot of fans. There were a few times throughout the round that one of the players would joking warn fans to watch out in case of an errant shot.

Jeter was certainly impressive as a golfer. He was able to make solid contact more times than not, which could be expected of a member of baseball’s 3000-hit club. The former captain of the New York Yankees also knew his way around the green, dropping in multiple putts from 15 feet or more.

As for Favre, there were times he looked as if he belonged, but also some others where he looked much more like a normal person on the golf course.

He did, however, clinch the victory for his team on the 18th green.

Stricker’s struggles

While Stricker finished the first round with the lead on Friday carding an 8-under 66, the course wasn’t as kind to him on Saturday.

Stricker’s lone birdie came on the 18th hold as he finished with a 2-over, 74 for the round. This was the first over-par round of his PGA Tour Champions career.

Stricker had carded 30 consecutive rounds under par, which is the fourth-longest streak in the history of the tour.

“It was a tough day, but that was a big birdie in my mind,” Stricker said of his birdie on the 18th hole. “It kept me a little bit closer. I mean, no one ran away with this thing today and three shots back, a lot of guys between me and the lead. Yeah, it was a good putt to make and finally get a birdie.

“It was just one of those days where I didn’t have a lot of energy. Nothing — hit very few good shots really. The couple that I did hit well, I was in bad spots, and a couple of bad shots even got worse. So nothing really went my way today except for that last putt.”

Stricker will begin the final round on Sunday tied for 14th at 6-under. He will tee off at 10 a.m. CT.

Madison’s other resident

With Stricker being the host of the tournament, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the other Madison resident playing in the tournament. Jerry Kelly certainly had a better day than Stricker on Saturday.

After shooting a 4-under 68 on Friday, Kelly followed that up with a 3-under 69 Saturday at University Ridge. He’s currently sitting at 7-under for the weekend and finds himself in a tie for sixth with seven other players.

Leader in the clubhouse

Esteban Toledo entered the day five shots off the lead after posting a 3-under 69 on Friday. Saturday was a much better day for him as he was 6-under, climbing all the way up to first on the leaderboard.

Toldeo holds a one-stroke lead over David Toms, Kent Jones, Fred Couples, and Billy Mayfair for the lead. The final group of Toledo, Toms, and Jones will tee off at 11 a.m. CT on Sunday morning.

Steve Stricker leads after first round of American Family Insurance Championship

MADISON — The first round of the American Family Insurance Championship is in the books, and there is a familiar name atop the leaderboard.

Madison’s Steve Stricker shot an 8-under 64 at University Ridge on Friday and owns a 1-shot lead in the Champions Tour event.

“It’s good just to get off to a fast start, which is key out here,” Stricker said. “There’s only three rounds, so you need to have a do-it-every-day attitude. This was the first day and I did well today. I’ve got to do the same thing (Saturday) and just keep doing what I’m doing. Just keep putting it in play and giving myself opportunities.”

Stricker went through the first nine holes at 4-under, but it probably should have been better. He missed a putt on the ninth hole for par that still had him a little upset afterwards, but he finished strong on the back nine.

“Absolutely not [with] the way he’s been playing,” said fellow Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly when asked if he was surprised with how well Stricker scored. “I talked with him (Thursday), and he was, of course, complaining that he couldn’t make anything. I know how well he’s hitting it.”

It’s Stricker’s second year being able to play on the Champions Tour, and the event makes for a tough back-to-back with the U.S. Open happening the week prior. But the fact he serves as the host, and more importantly, knowing all the benefits the event has for the kids at the American Family Children’s Hospital, Stricker is grinding through.

“It’s a lot of adrenaline this week. That’s kind of what I’m running on, I think,” Stricker said. “It’s a big week for us, so I’m just going with it. I’ll hit the wall, I’m sure, next week.”

Before that happens, he’ll have to fend off a stable of players that are within striking distance of the lead. Brad Bryant, who said he’s playing simply to get himself prepared for the U.S. Senior Open coming up, shot a 7-under 65 and sits in second place. Two shots behind him is Colin Montgomerie, John Daly and Steve Flesch. Kelly is tied for sixth at 4-under and last year’s champion, Fred Couples, is at 3-under.

“Now, it’s actually more fun,” Kelly said of the second and third rounds. “It’s ‘let’s go chase Steve.’”

Stricker hanging around at the British Open after two rounds

The British Open hasn’t seen many low scores today due to heavy wind and rain, which has allowed a number of players to still be in the mix heading into the weekend. Play was briefly suspended after a heavy rain, which lead to puddles on some of the greens. Many golfers are already in the clubhouse, while others are finishing up their second round at Royal Birkdale Golf Club.

After finishing yesterday with an even par 70, Stricker continues to hang around the top-half of the leaderboard. Stricker shot +2 today, good enough for a 72 and puts him currently tied for 28th place. He struggled on the front nine, bogeying three holes and paring the other six. His back nine was more Stricker-like as he finished with eight pars and a birdie. He seems to have figured out hole 17, as he’s birdied it both days. On the other hand, he’s struggled on hole 6, bogeying it both rounds. Stricker should make the cut, as the projected cut is sitting at +5 to make the weekend.

Jordan Spieth is still currently holding on to the lead, as he’s -1 today through 13 holes and -6 under for the tournament. Matt Kuchar and Brooks Koepka are also still high on the leaderboard, as they are tied for second. Kuchar is in the clubhouse, as he shot +1 for the day, but is -4 for the tournament. Koepka, this years U.S. Open Champion, is +1 through 11 holes today, and is also -4 for the tournament.

Notables

Rory Mcllroy -1 for the tournament

Bubba Watson E for the tournament

Defending champion Henrik Stenson E for the tournament

Ernie Els +1 for the tournament

Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler +2 for the tournament

Dustin Johnson +3 for the tournament

Phil Mickelson +10 for the tournament

Stricker solid in British Open first round

The British Open also known as “The Open” started today and over half of the golfers have already finished up their first round. The British Open is the third major during the golf season. The co-leaders in the clubhouse are Jordan Spieth and this year’s U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who shot a -5 under 65. Fan favorite Matt Kuchar is also at -5 under through 11 holes. 

Wisconsin’s own Steve Stricker made the trip across the pond to compete in the tournament. Stricker shot a even par 70, which currently has him tied for 34th. On the front nine, Stricker compiled seven pars and two bogeys. He finished his back nine with three birdies, one bogey, and five pars. Stricker is still searching for his first major championship win.

Notables

Hideki Matsuyama shot -2 for the day

Henrik Stenson shot -1 for the day

Jason Day is -1 through thirteen holes

Rickie Fowler is E through twelve holes

Dustin Johnson is E through seven holes

Phil Mickelson is E through five holes

Bubba Watson is +1 through five holes

Sergio Garcia is +2 through thirteen holes

Jason Dufner shot +3 for the day

Rory Mcllroy is +5 through seven holes

 

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.

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.”