The US Open: Steve Stricker's Homecoming

Posted by: mike June 9th, 2017

By Jame McAfee

 

Looking for a feel good story when the U.S. Open is held at Erin Hills, located 35 miles north of Milwaukee, this week? How about Steve Stricker?

The Wisconsin native, who lives 75 minutes away in Madison, asked for a special exemption, but it was turned down by the United States Golf Association, not surprising as few are rarely handed out..

The USGA likes to emphasize that everyone who has the game at the right time has a chance to make the field, pointing to 9.485 entries this year.

So Stricker just went out last week and earned medalist honors at the sectional qualifier in Memphis, posting 67-65—132 to earn one of nine spots in a field loaded with other professionals playing in the St Jude Classic.Steve Stricker

“It means a lot,” Stricker said about earning his way into the national championship, the first ever held in his home state.

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

Another hurdle is his age. He’s 50 and now eligible for the Champions Tour. So he’ll be giving away a lot of distance off the tee on a course that will play more than 7,600 yards. The odds seem to favor players like Dustin Johnson or even Jon Rahm.

Another interesting development for the U.S. Open is that six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson, scheduled to play with Stricker for the first two rounds, has indicated he may skip playing so that he can attend the graduation ceremony of daughter Amanda. He hasn’t officially withdrawn, but it appears that it would take a weather delay for him to be able to make his 2:22 p.m. tee time.

Skipping a Major, postponing for another year the chance at closing out the career Grand Slam, sounds like a choice few players would make, but Mickelson said the decision was easy.

"I love the (U.S.) Open, but this is a special moment for us," Mickelson said. "I mean, my daughter's speaking, she's giving the speech there at graduation. It's just one of those things, you need to be there. So it wasn't a hard decision at all."

Despite an online petition asking for the ceremony to be rescheduled, graduation was expected to proceed as planned.

But wouldn’t it be a feel good story if it happened and he won?

Erin Hills promises to be a challenging test for the game’s best. On land formed by glaciers, Michael Hurdzon, Dana Fry and Ron Whitter delivered a course that promises to be a challenging test for the game’s best players.

Steve Trotter, one of the original developers, will not be around to see the action in person. He’ll be watching it on television, not at home, but instead in the Waupun Correctional Institute, a maximum security penitentiary for murders and violent felons. He’s there because he killed his wife more than 10 years ago.

Erin Hills, a high-end public facility charging $280 for green fees, hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur, where Kelly Kraft edged Patrick Cantaly in the 36-hole finals. Neither player made it back.

But Brad Dalke, the 2016 U.S. Amateur runner-up who earned the deciding point in the University of Oklahoma’s NCAA championship last month, will be at Erin Hills along with other top amateurs like Scottie Scheffler and Maverick McNeely.

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James McAfee is currently the editor of the Knox County News-Courier in Texas. His articles also available at www.theaposition.com. Former editor with Golf Digest and numerous newspapers in Texas and a golf administrator for more than 20 years with the Northern Texas PGA and the Dallas District Golf Association.