Underestimate Stricker at your peril
It’s always been one of the Ryder Cup’s nonsenses and thankfully now it’s over. Steve Stricker is your new Ryder Cup captain and – brace yourself – he’s never won a major.
Fair enough, back in the day the Americans would reel out a succession of PGA champions as their skipper. The PGA run the Ryder Cup and the captaincy was the cherry on their cake.
These days, though, with all the money, kudos and millions of eyes on the three days it is ridiculous.
Ted Bishop, a former president of the PGA of America and the man who appointed Tom Watson in 2014, told Golf.com this interesting story.
“Stricker told me ‘I never really looked at Paul [Azinger] or Corey [Pavin] as major champions when they were my captains. To me, they were always just former Ryder Cup players. But Tiger and Phil always laugh and tell me that I will never be considered as a Ryder Cup captain until I win a major.'”
Hopefully, if the Americans have learnt anything from Europe’s Ryder Cup successes in recent years, then it’s that this doesn’t need to be the case. Europe haven’t had the pick of the major crop that the Americans have had but you only need to look to the likes of Sam Torrance, Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn this century for what might help to make a victorious captain – and winning a major doesn’t feature on any of their CVs.
Observers will blindly point out that Padraig Harrington’s three majors will give us a leg up in 2020. They’ll suggest that his greater standing in the game puts us one up already.
And then they could be reminded that everyone was very keen and quick to talk up the romantic return of Watson to the captaincy fold at Gleneagles against Paul McGinley, who was supposedly fortunate to get the nod and would almost certainly be overawed by the eight-time major winner.
And look how that all ended up with Watson being made to look like a pudding by one of his star players in front of everyone while McGinley is now regarded as maybe our shrewdest ever leader and the blueprint for future matches.
Supposedly, according to Bishop, Stricker was in line to be captain at Hazeltine in 2016 but then Gleneagles happened, the Task Force was born, of which Stricker was part of, and the Americans went back to Davis Love.
Stricker being Stricker was happy to go along with things.
We’ll look for anything at this stage for a few pointers so let’s start with Stricker’s playing record from his three matches which reads W3 L7 H1. He was a 41-year-old rookie at Valhalla where he added little to America’s success before winning three from four in the Celtic Manor defeat.
Finally we had a Ryder Cup partner for Woods, we all thought, they had already proved that in the Presidents Cup the previous year. Then they got stuffed in their one outing together in the 2011 Presidents Cup and the following year’s Ryder Cup was a personal shambles, losing all three with Tiger before going down to Martin Kaymer in the singles.
He’s been a vice-captain in the last three encounters so, depending on your point of view, he’s either part of the problem or, in 2016, part of the genius.
What you can’t argue with is that he’s liked by all; Watson, Love and Jim Furyk, who will be one of Stricker’s assistants in Wisconsin, all wanted him on their backroom team and he’s popular with the players.
When the Americans had polished off the Internationals at Liberty National in the 2017 Presidents Cup even Dustin Johnson, who’s not generally one to gush about anything or anyone, couldn’t hold himself back when asked about who they’d want as their next Presidents Cup captain.
“We would all vote Strick to be our next captain for sure. He’s been around, he knows all of us. We’ve all played on tour with him. But he’s just such a great leader. He’s a quiet leader but he’s a really good leader and we all respect him. We all trust him,” said the World No. 3.
“We would all agree that he’s been an amazing. We all love playing for him. We all respect him and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Stricker’s appointment is as bad a kept secret as Harrington’s with nobody else seemingly in the frame. Fred Couples will never take the Ryder Cup reins for whatever reason, Woods and Mickelson will both want another go at it on home soil and that leaves the likes of Zach Johnson of those untried.
The obvious solution, after the shoeing the Americans got in France, would have been Paul Azinger but, like Couples, it seems his star has fallen and, as mentioned, Stricker has been lined up for this role for some time.
Stricker, who will be an assistant to Woods at this year’s Presidents Cup, lives just hours away from Whistling Straits in Madison. He’s the home-town boy and he’s more gritty than most of us would give him credit for, major or no major.
“This is a guy who has come back from the driver yips,” said his opposite number Harrington last year. “This is a guy who has become a world-class player a couple of times later on in his career without the firepower and arsenal that other players have. You know when you’re going up against a guy like that, that he’s mentally tough and strong.”
Finally, if we’re looking for any sort of pointers as to how he’ll go about his task then we only need to go back to that Ryder Cup debut in Kentucky in 2008.
“The pod system he had in place, making everyone a part of the process and his general overall enthusiasm, I think Paul is the guy who has influenced me the most,” Stricker said. “There was nothing he left to chance. We could not have been more prepared to play golf that week. He was on a mission and that fed into all of us when we got on the course.”