May 24—Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson played a practice round last Monday against Dustin Johnson and Will Zalatoris leading up to PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island in South Carolina.
Stricker said Mickelson played well enough to begin his typical trash talking.
“Phil and I were 3-up after 3 and he said it loud enough so everybody could hear, ‘You know, Strick, I thought we’d be more up at this point'” and we were 3-up after 3. Typical Phil,” Stricker said at a media conference after Saturday’s third round.
Mickelson continued that success into the PGA Championship, which he won. The 50-year-old became golf’s oldest major champion with a five-shot victory Sunday.
Stricker also played well, but he could not keep up with the younger Mickelson. The 54-year-old Edgerton native shot two solid rounds Friday and Saturday (a combined 3-under 141), but he opened with a 76 and finished Sunday with a 75.
His 4-over 292 total put him in a tie for 44th place, which was commendable in a field that included 99 of the top 100 ranked players on the PGA Tour.
But what had Stricker feeling a bit deflated was his putting. That was the part of his game that carried him in the prime of his career. That is not the case now.
“I struck the ball so nicely again today,” he said according to transcripts of his interview. “That had to be one of my worst putting rounds ever. I couldn’t tap it in. So that part is very frustrating.
“Just never felt comfortable, and then it was breezy today, too, so that adds to it. Just to feel steady over it—I don’t even feel steady over it. I feel like I could miss a 2-footer, and I almost did a couple times.”
Stricker’s four rounds over the weekend did include two eagles—one on the par-5 No. 2 hole Friday and another on the par-5 No. 7 hole Saturday.
That type of ball striking has Stricker optimistic. For someone who had not planned to play on the PGA Tour at all this year until COVID-19 pushed the 2020 Ryder Cup into September of 2021, Stricker now has a goal of qualifying for the 125-man FedEx Playoffs.
And now he will head to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he will compete in this week’s Kitchen Aid Senior PGA Championship at the Southern Hills Country Club.
“I’m excited to go next week,” Stricker said. “I’ll get away from the game for a day and then pro-am on Tuesday and I’ll get back to work Tuesday and Wednesday and get ready to tee it up there at Southern Hills. I’m excited to go there and see what the redo is all about. I heard nothing but good things about it.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’m frustrated right now the way I putted. Literally made nothing today. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t pretty. But I’ll be excited to go and get ready for next week.”
And he was excited for Mickelson.
“It’s impressive when you’ve got a 50-year-old leading at the top of the leaderboard,” Stricker said Saturday. “But he’s a special player. He’s one of the greatest players in the game, in the history of the game, and he’s kept his health and his flexibility, and he still hits it long enough to compete. It’s pretty cool to see him up there at the top.”
He was asked if a Mickelson victory would put “Lefty” into contention for one of Stricker’s six captain picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
“You know what, you could put a pretty good amount of weight on this week I feel like just because I feel like this is really similar to Whistling Straits,” Stricker said of the Kohler course that will host the Ryder Cup.
“We’ve got wind, we’ve got links style but not really links style golf, which is similar to Whistling Straits. We’ll look—myself and the captains—we’ll look at who played well here this week for sure because this is a telltale for Whistling Straits.”
Maybe Stricker can have Mickelson drop down to Tulsa for a practice round at Southern Hills.
The magic might rub off.