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April 1, 2008

Steve Stricker


DOUG MILNE: Steve Stricker, we'd like to thank you for joining us for a few minutes here at the at the 2008 Shell Houston Open.
Take you back two years. Coming into this event two years ago you were ranked 331st in the world and finished 3rd here in 2006.
Just talk a little bit about that and, you know, how much of a factor the 3rd place in 2006 kicked things off.
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah. It's been a great ride the last couple of years and I feel like I owe a lot here to Steve Timms and the Houston Golf Association who gave me a spot here and kind of felt like it all got started here and it kick-started my good play.
I gained a lot of confidence from this event a couple years ago and have kind of rolled with it since, and this place means a lot. I enjoy coming here and the course is in great shape. Got a good field.
DOUG MILNE: You almost started 2008 with a perfect season, lost in a playoff to Daniel Chopra at Mercedes.
Kind of assess the strong parts of your game and what you're relying on right now.
STEVE STRICKER: It's been a good start to the season. I've been doing, you know, a lot of good things, I guess driving it in play for the most part, my iron play has been better.
You know, my putting needs a little work but it's a work in progress, I guess, but it's been fairly solid. I've had a couple good rounds that have really brought me back into some tournaments this year.
Final round at both the Pods Championship and at CA Championship that kind of helped things along and I feel like my game is progressing. You know, we're still not able to hit balls or play up in Wisconsin yet so it's still, you know, kind of difficult for me to get into tournaments, you know, feeling totally prepared but it's been a good start to the season and look forward to this week and next week at Augusta.
DOUG MILNE: Take some questions.

Q. Steve, earlier Stuart Appleby was asked about you, how far you've come in a relatively short amount of time. He referred to you as you were a sleeping bear. Did you feel that way? I guess we call it sleeping giant.
STEVE STRICKER: Well, I wasn't waking up. I know that back a couple years ago (laughter). You know, I always felt like it's in there, I've always felt like I've had a lot of good play inside of me. Getting it out it's sometimes is difficult. Sometimes I don't let myself be very free out on the golf course.
I tend to be pretty conservative at times. But that's just the nature of me and the nature of the way I play. I've always felt like I could get it going again, you know. To say two years ago if I could be where I'm at today, you know, I never would have thought that back then, nor did I.
I just wanted to play good again, that was my goal a couple years ago, to get in contention and maybe win again and to be more consistent and play better and, fortunately, the work that I've done has paid off and I continue to do the same stuff but it's just confidence level is better and things I feel a lot better about being here at tournaments and overall picture is a lot better.

Q. Do you think that you look at things a little differently now because of where you were and where you're at now?
STEVE STRICKER: No question. I don't get as spooked anymore. I've seen the very lows of this game, you know. There was -- two, three year period there where I, you know, didn't care to play. And I've also seen the very highs of this game.
You know, there's not too much that phases me anymore, you know? I've been out here I think this is my 15th year and, you know, I have learned a lot, you know, about the ups and the downs. Mainly the most -- I guess the biggest things I learned when the times weren't so good, about myself, about the game, about other players.
I really learned a lot at that time and I think it's helped in my whole progression of being where I'm at today.

Q. What did you learn about yourself in those times?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, how hard you work at it, how hard you need to work at it, the patience you need to have, the resiliency that I have.
You know, it all comes into play when you're not playing very well, you know, you really need to be patient and you need to dig deep inside and see what you got and, you know, I made a commitment again I think and re-dedicated myself and just had the support of my family and everything.
So it all plays a part, you know, and you learn a lot about what you're made of and what's inside.

Q. Is there anyway to transport us to where you may have been mentally when you're showing up here, you had just gotten the call, you're in on a sponsor's exempt, 331st in the world. Must look like this huge mountain you have to climb.
Kind of where were you?
STEVE STRICKER: Back in 2006, I was just happy to be playing, you know, I was happy to get a spot and get the opportunity to come here and play.
You know, obviously back then, your goals are different. You know, I mean you get excited at different things and that was the excitement level for me was just to be able to get in this tournament and play.
So, I was able to take advantage of it. I had gotten off to a decent start that year. I played decent at a couple tournaments prior to here. I think I maybe not played for a three week period or month period before coming here. So I was excited to play and excited about the opportunity to play.

Q. Steve, we've all seen guys that were up, fall off the face of the earth and don't hear from them again. Did you ever worry that was you?
STEVE STRICKER: You know, you think that, I guess. I mean -- I guess that was a point where I decided, you know, I can either spend the time at home with my family and maybe do something else but -- or work harder at the game that I really like and enjoy and, you know, it's been such a huge part of my life forever that I couldn't see myself giving it up that easy.
So I guess that's where the re-dedication and the commitment came into was just, you know, focusing a little bit harder on what I needed to do and decided that this is really what I want to do.
You know, at times I was thinking what am I qualified to do other than golf and it was a very short list (laughter).
I decided to just play a little harder and work at this game a little bit harder and, you know, the work has paid off.

Q. What is different about your work or your approach? Are you working that much harder, are you working smarter?
STEVE STRICKER: I think I'm just being a little smarter about it all. I understand my swing and understand my game and I understood some of the things that I wasn't doing so well back in that two, three year funk, and I just decided I need to work on those and, you know, it all started really with I guess my tempo.
I just tried to slow things down mentally and physically and just tried to pay more attention and be a bit easier on myself but I think the overall key has been just to slowdown and when things weren't going well my mind was racing. I wanted to get the shot over with and felt like I shouldn't be there type things.
They're just bad thoughts. That's kind of where I first started was thinking a little bit slower, thinking more positively. But there are also physical things there, too, that I had to deal with. I think all of it together has been -- has worked out.

Q. Steve, did you seek anybody out who had been where were you and gotten back up or anybody sought you out in the same deal, because what you've done can be an inspiration to others who have been where you are?
STEVE STRICKER: I didn't seek anybody out. I've always felt from day one that this is up to the player. I've had help with my swing from my father-in-law but I've also felt like from day one that he can't hit the shot for me.
He can tell me a thing or two about what's going on in my swing but ultimately I've got to be happy with what I'm doing, happy with my swing and that's where I started.
I'm like, I'm going to do this on my own. I'm going to be happy with what I'm doing. I want to do what I want to do, fix the things I want to fix and understand why I fixed them so I can deal with it in tournament play and understand more about my swing than having somebody else tell me. So that's where I went with that.
I've also had some other players that have struggled the last few years or whatever come up to me and ask me, you know, how I've done it, what did I do.
There really isn't any magic to it. It's just that I put in the time during the winter. I hit a lot of balls and tried to figure out really what was the problem and just put the time in.

Q. Was there a point where you said, "I'm back"? Was it here in Houston or --
STEVE STRICKER: I saw later in 2006 I contended at the U.S. Open at Wing Foot and I saw a lot of good signs there that things that I was doing were starting to payoff under the pressure.
I had played well on that Saturday. I drove it well. I don't know if I scored so well but I did a lot of good things under the gun and under the pressure. That kind of gave me the confidence that the things I'm working on were the right things and I was heading in the right direction.

Q. Steve, when people ask you about -- people are always asking you about the depths you've been and that kind of thing, is it hard for you to always go back to that place or does it kind of -- or is it a kind of reinforcing what you've accomplished to get back to where you are?
You understand what I'm asking?
STEVE STRICKER: It's a little bittersweet because I've played some great golf the last couple years. I wish we could focus on that at times but it also gives me satisfaction in knowing where I was, you know, in 2005 and back to Tour School and all that stuff, and to see where I'm at today, you know, gives me a lot of gratification and a lot of, you know, just knowing that I did the right thing and knowing that I did it, you know, with the help of my family and everybody and knowing that they were the right things and that -- but now I continue to look forward.
I try not to think about where I was and I continue to try to look forward and try to do bigger and better things and try to keep improving on what I've been working on the last few years.

Q. How emotional toward that end was to it win at Barclays last year in the playoff? How big a deal was that for you to get affirmation, particularly in the high profile of the event at that time?
STEVE STRICKER: That was huge. It was an emotional time for me and my family and it was just a time that, you know, all of it came together and I had put together some good tournaments throughout last year and had some opportunities to win, U.S. Open, British Open were a couple of them will and not to win, you know, I never looked at them as negatives.
I just kept thinking of them as building blocks to the point of where I was going to win again and finally it happened at the Barclays and, you know, what better time for it to happen was at the first playoff event.
So, it just all came together, you know, and I had a great run at the playoffs. You know, it's just -- it's been a ball. I don't know what else to say. It's been surreal at times and -- but it's been a lot of fun.

Q. What are you seeing, talking about wanting to look forward and all that? What carrots are on the stick out there for you?
STEVE STRICKER: Always to win. It's not like I've won a bunch out here, I think four times in my career out here and winning is so much fun, you know, I forgot how much fun it was until winning last year and very much so. I would love to do that again.

You know, the Majors are coming up and I've competed well in the Majors over my career so those are always fun and, you know, who knows. I had the taste a couple times last year, like I said at the U.S. Open and British Open to get into contention with 9 holes to play.
That's the ultimate for us. Obviously to keep playing well, keep playing solid and obviously to win.

Q. How do you feel about next week, your chances there? Has that been a good course for you?
STEVE STRICKER: It hasn't been great for me there. I think I've had one Top-10 in my career there. But it's a place where you have to do all parts of your game very well. You have to drive it well, you have to hit good irons. I think especially you have to hit your irons well.
You have to, you know, put it in the correct place on the greens to give yourself an opportunity to make putts there. It's very difficult to putt and if you end up missing a lot of greens it's very difficult to get it up and down.
So I think the key there is to obviously get it on the greens as much as possible and give yourself opportunities just to make pars and sneak in a birdie here and there.
What was the winning score last year, 1-over par? That tells you how difficult that course has become over the years. You know, I think it's probably just going to be just as hard this year.

Q. How does this course prepare you for that? I know the tournament organizers try to simulate it?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't think anyplace can prepare you for Augusta other than being there at Augusta. I think just playing in general prepares you, you know, you get to be under the gun for, you know, the four days leading up to the event and you get to work on your short game and your putting and they try to do similar stuff around here like Augusta.
The rough isn't up that high this week like Augusta. The greens should be pretty quick and mow the edges down that lead to the water.
They try to make it like Augusta but, you know, I think it's guys that are here that just want to play and keep their games as sharp as they can leading up to Augusta.

Q. Augusta is going to be your fourth week in a row, isn't it? That's pretty, you know, tough stretch running up into a Major here.
Is it hard to play this week when --
STEVE STRICKER: No. Last week was a tough decision for me. I wanted to go but I thought four in a row was pushing it but, yeah, they've been good to me over the years, too, at New Orleans, they've given me a spot there a few years ago to come and play and felt like I owed them a little bit of something and I just figured if I'm going to play, let's just keep working on it.
I'll take a couple weeks off after Augusta. I just made a commitment to try to, you know, keep working on some of the little things. I don't have to go out there and beat balls all day long to work on things but I just felt like working on my putting and I can't do that at home. That's the biggest drawback for me, I can't chip or putt at home. I figured the best way for me to get ready for that in that department was to keep -- stay out here and keep playing.
DOUG MILNE: One more, anybody?

Q. Steve, when they do -- you know, obviously they've made an effort to do as much as they can on the course set-up here, whether it's the visual of the fairway mowed the same way, different things like that.
What's the biggest thing that you can take from here to Augusta? Is it the speed of the greens? Is it just working on the precision of where you have to place your shots on a green like 18th? Because obviously the greens are very different. There's so much that's different. What can you take from what they've done here most to next week?
STEVE STRICKER: Probably, you know, if it dries out a little bit. Who knows. We may have wet conditions next week at Augusta, too. You never know. But I think the speeds of the greens are, you know, somewhat similar but still can't even compare that, either.
I mean the slopes that you deal with there at Augusta are way more severe than what you have here so it's difficult to duplicate, but I think the biggest thing is you just see guys that are here and they're working on their games, you know, they're using this time to be preparing under tournament conditions, you know, where you have to hit a certain shot under the gun, under the pressure of a tournament.
So I think that's the biggest thing is guys want to just, you know, make it mean something this week while they're playing that each shot still means something and that helps them going into next week and then once you get to Augusta, you know, I think it's a whole new set of circumstances with the conditions.
DOUG MILNE: Steve, that's so much for coming in.

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