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.”

Steve Stricker Update

Wisconsin’s own Steve Stricker finished up his first round at Erin Hills for this year’s U.S. Open Thursday evening. He was part of one of the last half dozen  groups to walk off the course yesterday after a round he shot 73. Stricker had an up and down front nine and a consistent par heavy back nine.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

He started his Thursday round teeing off at 3:20 pm starting on the first hole. Stricker started his round off strong, as he birdied his first two holes  to start the day at two under. He then ran into trouble holes three and four and ended up bogeying both to bring him back to even par. Stricker finished his last five holes of the front nine adding four pars and yet another bogey.

He made the turn at hole number 10 and parred ever single hole on the back nine. Stricker finished the day at +1 and shot a 73, good enough to put him in a tie for 61st place. He tallied two birdies, 13 pars, and three bogeys in his first round of the U.S. Open.  For fans who had hopes of Stricker taking home his first PGA Major Championship, there is still a chance for the home state hero . So far this season, Stricker has been starting out slow. He has an overall score over par for his first round in tournaments. After the first round, Stricker seems to find his groove as he has an overall score under par for all of the final three rounds in tournament play this year.

Stricker teed off this morning at 9:35. He is in a group that features tour veteran Stewart Cink and
Roberto Diaz. Stricker is currently through five holes and is -1 on the day and is sitting at even par for the tournament.

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Rickie Fowler shoots a 7-under 65 to take early U.S. Open lead

Rickie Fowler has never won a major tournament in his career, but the 28-year-old is off to a great start as he looks to capture his first.

Fowler was one of the first to tee off Thursday morning at the 117th U.S. Open being played at Erin Hills just outside of Hartford, and he has everyone chasing him, as he posted a 7-under 65 to position himself atop the leaderboard.

“It was nice. You don’t get many rounds at a U.S. Open that are stress free,” Fowler said. “Simple day when you look back on it and how we kind of pieced our way around the golf course, but a lot easier said than done.”

By shooting 7-under, Fowler tied the record of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf for the lowest round to par in the first round of a U.S. Open.

“That’s cool, but it’s just the first round,” Fowler said when told of the mark. “I’d rather be remembered for something that’s done on Sunday.”

Steve Stricker earns spot in U.S. Open after winning qualifier

MEMPHIS — A rain delay and the pressure of trying to earn a spot to play in the U.S. Open in his home state couldn’t deter Madison’s Steve Stricker from winning a qualifying round Monday evening.

The 50-year-old shot a 4-under par 67 in round one and a 6-under 65 round two to win the qualifier with an overall 132. Five players finished a stroke behind Stricker, with the top nine finishers earning a spot at Erin Hills June 12-18.

Prior to Monday’s action, Stricker attempted to earn his way to Erin Hills by asking the USGA for an exemption — a request that was quickly denied.

“It means a lot,” Stricker said. “Not getting an exemption was a motivational factor. Not that I deserved one, but it’s been driving me to achieve this goal. And, I’m just happy that I’m going to get to play. It’s a relief to get to play in the first one in my home state.”

Stricker will be participating in another big golf event in his home state beginning on June 23rd — The American Family Insurance Championship at University Ridge in Madison. It’s part of the PGA Champions Tour for golfers aged 50-plus. Stricker spoke with the Wisconsin Sports Zone Network during Media Day about his chances of earning a spot at Erin Hills after failing to earn the exemption.

Stricker hasn’t played in the Open in three years, but has played the Erin Hills course a handful of times. He says his biggest obstacle will be finding a way to gain an extra 20 yards on his drive because of the sheer size of the course.

Stricker finishes fourth at British Open

TROON, SCOTLAND — While Henrik Stenson went on to win the British Open on Sunday to become the first Swedish man to win a major, Wisconsin native Steve Stricker finished fourth.

Stenson shot an 8-under 63 in Sunday’s final round, holding off Phil Mickelson for his first major title. Stricker’s overall 2-under 69 qualifies him for a spot in the Masters, as well as the Open Championship in 2017.

Stricker’s performance was also his best finish at an Open Championship, finishing tied for seventh at Birkdale in 2008.

Wisconsin’s Skip Kendall Will Play In PGA Champions Event In Madison

MADISON, Wis. (June 3, 2016) — Wisconsin native Skip Kendall will play in the first-ever PGA TOUR Champions American Family Insurance Championship, June 24-26, at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison. Kendall received a sponsor’s exemption from American Family, as did fellow PGA TOUR Champions player Stan Utley.

Kendall was born and raised in the Milwaukee area, before playing collegiate golf at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He then hit the professional golf ranks, winning four times on the Web.com Tour, and earning 26 top-10 finishes on the PGA TOUR and three top-10 finishes on PGA Tour Champions. Kendall won the Wisconsin State Open in 1988 and 1989.

Stan Utley has competed on PGA TOUR Champions since 2011 after a career on both the Web.com and PGA tours. He won his sole PGA TOUR title at the 1989 Chattanooga Classic, along with three Web.Com wins.

Fans can purchase tickets for the American Family Insurance Championship at the tournament website at www.amfamchampionship.com. Options include $25 general admission tickets valid any day of the championship, in addition to three-day general admission and clubhouse passes with special amenities.

Active duty, reserve and retired military personnel can enjoy a free three-day pass and any child 15 and under also gets free admission to the tournament with an adult admission.

Fans can also follow the tournament’s social media channels: Twitter: @amfamchamp; Facebook: American Family Insurance Championship; and Instagram: AmFamChampionship.
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About the American Family Insurance Championship
The PGA TOUR Champions tour, American Family Insurance and 12-time PGA TOUR winner and Wisconsin native Steve Stricker announced last June this new Wisconsin golf event. The inaugural American Family Insurance Championship will feature an 81-player field competing for a $2 million purse. The no-cut event will include two Pro-Am events on June 22-23 followed by three days of tournament play, June 24-26. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation for distribution to the American Family Children’s Hospital and other charities.