Steve Stricker and his wife/caddie, Nicki, got to share in his first USGA victory of his career during Sunday’s U.S. Senior Open at Notre Dame’s Warren Course.
Team Stricker also got to share the win with their two daughters, Bobbi and Izzy, who hadn’t seen their dad win in person for more than seven years, since the 2012 Tournament of Champions in Maui.
“Izzy started to say, ‘I think we’re bad luck, dad. You don’t win when we’re there’,” Nicki Stricker said by phone Monday. “But it was awesome this time.”
So how did the family celebrate this fun occasion, Steve’s second major championship for his career on the PGA Tour Champions?
“We drove home,” Nicki laughed, “We got home about 1:30 Monday morning.”
But not before Steve signed all kinds of Notre Dame memorabilia like football helmets, hockey sticks and hockey helmets for the University and the USGA.
Of course the “Rudy” fan got a kick out of the way players got to register last week, inside the famous Notre Dame football locker room.
— USGA (@USGA) June 24, 2019
“It was really cool to be able to experience that, and go down on the field, kind of go through the tunnel that they go through before every game,” Nicki said.
All told, the 52-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain finished off his 19-under par week with a 1-under 69 and jumped in the driver’s seat of the family car to make the 240-mile trek around Lake Michigan from South Bend, Indiana back home to Madison, Wisconsin, listening to a healthy road-trip mix on SiriusXM’s “The Highway” channel.
What a special week with @nicstricker on the bag and kids along at @USGA Sr. Open. Thanks to the @USGA! It took 52 years but I finally won one of your events 😜 Also a huge thank you to all the people that have reached to me. Appreciate it! pic.twitter.com/LCgKxU3BEm
— Steve Stricker (@stevestricker) July 1, 2019
The Strickers wanted to get back and sleep in their own beds before a big, four-day vacation this week four hours north in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin for some fishing and water sports.
Stricker was grouped with fellow Wisconsinite Jerry Kelly on Sunday, who beat Stricker in his hometown American Family Insurance event last week.
The loss was gut-wrenching for both Strickers because Steve is the host and he uncharacteristically asked Nicki for help on the read of a putt, which he’d never done before, on the 72nd hole for what would have been a winning 8-foot birdie.
“It was different, I’m not used to having him ask me for help,” Nicki said. “And he did there, so I felt like I kind of let him down a little bit, so I was frustrated (afterwards). He played great in the event. It wasn’t just that putt on the last hole to win the tournament.”
But she did see a silver lining as the missed putt and eventual loss in a three-way playoff led into U.S. Senior Open week.
“If it was trending towards winning Sunday (of the U.S. Senior Open), had he made it at Madison, he went into the Open with kind of a different mindset,” Nicki said. “He had a little bit more of an edge. I think it really catapulted him to winning Sunday, having not won the Sunday before.”
Stricker went on to shatter the U.S. Senior Open record of consecutive holes without a bogey, posting 57, breaking the previous record of 44.
However, he did call in Nicki for her second-ever green read during Saturday’s third round on the ninth hole.
Would there be any lingering affects of the Sunday before, and thus any hesitation to help the expert putter?
“He asked as we were walking up there and talking about it, I was totally fine with it,” Nicki said.
“It was hard sometimes with the shadows from the trees, it’s hard to see any movement. It was fine knowing it was for that reason, just to try to get another eye on it. I tried to learn from the week before that it’s not that I have to be 100 percent right, he’s still going to do what he’s going to do.”
And what he did for the week at 19 under, a six-shot win, was the best she’d seen her husband play since their second win together at Cog Hill in the 1996 Western Open when he won by eight.
Nicki heard from her dad, Dennis Tziani who has coached Steve for over 30 years, Sunday after the round.
“He was just really proud and really excited for us,” Nicki said. Tziani lives next door to the Strickers and watched the coverage from start to finish on Sunday.
So, what was the exchange like on the final green between player and caddie, husband and wife?
“I told him ‘good job’ and that I was proud of him,” Nicki said. “Neither one of us could really get too much out for fear of choking up right there.”
— USGA (@USGA) July 1, 2019
“I know how much it means to him. I know he appreciates me being there and I appreciate him giving me the opportunity to be there and to share that. Not just as a spouse would, but inside the ropes with him, too. To be a part of that is not something that I take for granted.”
It was the first major he won with her on the bag. During his Regions Tradition major win earlier this season, she couldn’t make it because of Izzy’s school schedule, but said her brother, Mario, was thrilled to help Steve that week.
“Sunday was hard for Steve,” Nicki said, “He had a plan when he went out there and stuck to it. Thankfully, I knew where to say things, where not to. I think there was a calm out there for him.”
For a caddie, when your player has a large lead entering the final round it would figure to be a challenge to help keep the pedal down.
“I think the key was just staying positive, staying out of the way,” Nicki laughed. “He’s just trying to read what’s going on as it is. I’m deciding if I need to talk about something or not; get him to talk about something other than what he’s doing, or just leave him alone, let him be with his own thoughts like he needs to be.”
The win means a lot of things for next year, most prominently that he’s in the regular U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where he finished T6 in 2006.
He doesn’t need to go through golf’s longest day as he successfully did in 2018 and missed this year.
Nicki’s been on the bag for those 36-hole sectional qualifiers in the past, and this exemption was music to her ears.
“It’s absolutely nice to be qualified already,” she said. “It’s great.”
And the regular U.S. Open is an event Stricker has found good recent success in. He hasn’t finished outside of the top 21 in the last six he’s played in.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Land O’ Lakes are calling during this July 4th week.