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June 3, 2009

Steve Stricker


JOHN BUSH: We'd like to welcome Steve Stricker into the interview room. Steve, obviously a great week for you last week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. Talk about your victory there, and you moved up to number two in the FedEx Cup standings as a result.
STEVE STRICKER: It was a very special week. It was a lot of fun. Had the opportunity to win a couple of times earlier this year, didn't get it done. This one here looked like it really wasn't meant to be after missing a short putt at 16.
But things changed in a hurry and ended up by kind of stealing one there. So it's been a couple of quick days but good days, and looking forward to getting started here this week.
JOHN BUSH: Making your tenth appearance here at the Memorial. Talk a little about this Tournament and your preparations.
STEVE STRICKER: My preparations haven't been too good. Obviously, with the wind and I went home for a day and got in here late. You know, it's been busy here. But I always look forward to playing here.
The course is in great shape. I played nine holes yesterday afternoon. The greens are pure. The course is pure. It can't get any better. It's really good, and I'm looking forward to it.

Q. Steve, mentally right now, the confidence you have coming in here and what part of your game do you think is best right now for you?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, confidence-wise, it can't be any higher. Coming off a win last week, you can't do much better than that. The whole year has been going along very well. I've done a lot of good things.
My whole game has been pretty solid. I'm driving the ball better this year. I'm hitting a lot of greens in regulation. I've been working on my putting lately, and that's starting to come around. Really everything has been shaping up pretty good.
You can always do things better in this game. You can always work on things. I do that, and I continue to do that.
I've been very consistent all year. I've been trying to do the smart things on the golf course mentally, and it's been paying off.

Q. I thought you made a good point somewhere that, you know, one way to measure success is how many times you're giving yourself a chance. Still, I think there were three tournaments this year where you had at least a shot on the back nine and didn't win. Given how long you've been out here -- and you're certainly not old by any means, but early 40s -- was there any thought of you that was starting to get worried, that your time was running out on you?
STEVE STRICKER: Not because I was old, Doug, but maybe because I couldn't finish --

Q. I shouldn't have said that.
STEVE STRICKER: I'm just kidding. Coming down the stretch again this last week, I had -- I didn't realize it, but somebody did tell me that I did have the lead at one point by myself on the back nine. Early in the round, I think I made birdie at 10. Actually, maybe when I made birdie at 12. But anyway, you know, and then I don't make those putts at 14, 15, miss a short one at 16, and I'm starting to think to myself, this is becoming a common theme. Getting in contention and kind of leaking it away at the end.
It was starting to bother me, and it got me down there for a minute. Then when I hit it over the green at 17, things didn't look so good.
And I told Jimmy, I'm like, well, we're going to have to try to chip it in and birdie the last. So the thinking was good. You know, the direction was good, with my thoughts and everything. Sure as not, we pull it off.
You had to have a little help too. You know, it's just hard. It's hard coming down the stretch and trying to do it. I think we take it for granted when he watch some of the best players in the world like Tiger or Phil or something, and they pull off some of these shots at the end and end up stealing tournaments or winning them.
For the average guy out there -- and I feel for Tim. I've been there, and it's very difficult to win and he hasn't won out here before, so I'm sure he's feeling the little extra added pressure coming down to the end. It's hard to do.

Q. Barclays was big because it had been 6 1/2 or whatever years. How was this one big? I don't know if validation is the right word.
STEVE STRICKER: It kind of is. When I won Barclays, it's kind of a lift off my shoulders that I had come back and was doing the right things to compete and win again. That was in '07. But I've played well since '06. I've given myself a lot of opportunities.
You know, I feel like I should have won again since the Barclays and haven't. You start to feel that little extra added pressure. I think coming down the stretch, that's some of the pressure what you're feeling.
I was calm. I really was. I was calm and relaxed on Sunday. But still you want to get it done. You know, you start to force things a little bit. It's a little bit different than how you normally play throughout the week because you're in that position and you're trying to get it done.

Q. Steve, kind of talk about the pressure maybe that's the reason for the emotions. Have those emotions changed over the years after victories? Earlier in your career, were you the same emotionally? Or does the perspective and droughts you've had and what not kind of changed how you feel after the win?
STEVE STRICKER: It's been pretty much the same. I mean, I cried after every win. So it's pretty much the same.
I think the reason is, you know, it just -- it comes to reality, fruition, or whatever, that all this hard work that you put in over the time, and this is what we're out here to do. You know, you dream about winning and you're working towards winning.
Then when it finally happens, you know, it gets to be emotional for me. You know, you see it in a lot of players. But I'm an emotional guy anyway. It's who I am. You know, I like to experience that some more and cry some more if I win.
But it's just, you know, I just feel all that emotion. Because you put your heart into it for all the year, that week, or whatever, and grinding it out, and it's finally over. So it's a good deal.

Q. Maybe the longer you're out here, the more appreciation you have of that.
STEVE STRICKER: There's no doubt about it. Even the last couple of wins after, you know, not playing so well for the period in '04 and '05 or whatever, but, you know, I realize where I was, where I am now, and what it's taken to get here.
You know, it's taken hard work. You know what, I've still got to pinch myself. I can't believe where I'm at today compared to where I was in '04 and '05. I appreciate it a lot.

Q. Steve, when you're working on putting and you're not quite sure, really set with what you're trying to do, what's harder? Is it getting the speed or getting the line or trusting what you're seeing as far as a read? Where do you start to put it back together?
STEVE STRICKER: You know, for me, I've always been very simple when it comes to putting, and I've done the same thing my entire career, even back in college. For me, it's all about speed.
I look at a putt, and I'll just try to feel it in there with the speed that I want to hit it. I rarely think about speed, but, you know, you can have a putt break totally different based on the speed you hit it. So those two things have to marry up, what you're seeing and then put the speed to what you're seeing.
But it's all a feel process for me. I just -- you know, I've been working on lengthier putts, trying to hit longer putts better outside 20 feet. And that's what I did well last week. I putted the ball really well from longer distances. I think I had one three-putt, but overall I made some longer putts that I haven't been making this year.
Like I said, I try to make it as simple as I possibly can, make it a feel thing.

Q. Two things. One, this must be a huge adjustment coming from the greens of Colonial, which I understand were relatively slow compared to what these were here. How hard was that to make this adjustment? Two, I think when you were number 3 in the world, even your wife questioned your position. Now you're number 8, and I'm wondering where -- if you feel like that's a more comfortable position for you or you believe that's where you should be.
STEVE STRICKER: The adjustment in green speed, you've just got to put in your time on that practice putting green and out on the course too. It's a nine-day difference from Colonial last week. Colonial was a little slower than what we normally play, and this is a little faster from what we normally play.
You've got to put in your time and put in the repetitions on the green, practice putting green to get it down. I've been doing that the last couple of days. I spent a lot of time putting.
As far as the world rankings, it's all icing on the cake, you know. I don't know where I should be. I've been playing well. That's all I try to do. Let that other stuff take care of itself, I guess.
But, you know, I've been playing well. I've been playing well for an extended period of time. It's nice to see that pay off and be up in there.

Q. Just a followup. When you look at and see you're the number 3 or number 4 American in the United States, you're number 8 or 10 in the world or something like that, does that take you aback at some point and say, I never thought I could be there?
STEVE STRICKER: It does. Especially when, you know, I started hitting balls and working at it in '05, you know, where I was at that point. To see where I am today is very rewarding. I mean, the things that I've done, the mindset that I've had for these last four years has been very good and very special to me. It's something that I don't want to stop doing either.
I continually look forward and try to do better things. That's what I kept telling myself after losing those three events that I had the opportunity to win, and I said, well, maybe there's something bigger and better in store for me and just getting me ready.
So that's kind of what I keep thinking, you know. I don't know if Colonial was the bigger and better thing. It sure is great. And I'm very happy to have won. I still keep looking forward and thinking there could be something bigger and better. That's why I continue to work hard at it and keep moving forward.

Q. Did you do Bethpage in '02?

Q. Any good stories? Do you look forward to going back?
STEVE STRICKER: I do look forward to going back.

Q. Why?
STEVE STRICKER: The atmosphere there was what I remember the most there. You know, the crowds, the way they chanted. They sung Happy Birthday to Phil on -- I think that was on Sunday.

Q. What did they sing to you?
You know, what I remember is not getting to a couple of fairways. That kind of sticks in my mind. But I'm looking forward to going back.
I remember it being a good course, and, you know, I hear they added some length, which I don't know they really needed at the time.
Mike Davis is setting it up. The way he's done the last few Opens, I think he's going to do a good job there and make it fair, and I'm sure we'll be able to get to more of the fairways.

Q. Can you talk about Mike and what he's done since Winged Foot? Kenny, I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he even used the word soft and U.S. Open in the same sentence, which is kind of rare.
STEVE STRICKER: He softened it up, no doubt, from what Tom Meech was doing all those years. I think he wanted to, Mike, I mean, he wanted to restore some of that fairness to the game which we weren't seeing at times in some other Opens. I think he was very cautious.
I talked to Mike. He's a great guy. I think he just wanted to make sure it was fair, the way they'd done the rough since Winged Foot, I think, has been great, where it's been a gradual progression of higher rough the further offline you get. And I think they're conscious of making sure that it's fair.
You know, I think it's been, as far as major tournaments go, probably the fairest of them all lately, the way it's been.

Q. And yet the winning score at Winged Foot and Oakmont was 5 over.
STEVE STRICKER: They're hard courses, and they're still set up difficult. They're not easy by any means, but I think it's just you need to hit good shots. You just need to play great. And they're just hard. Bottom line. But I think he's done a much better job in being fair about the setup.

Q. If you had advice for someone who had never played before a New York gallery like the one you get at Bethpage, what would you tell them?
STEVE STRICKER: Bring some ear plugs maybe. They can be great, and they can be probably brutal. But it's atmosphere like no other that we play. That's what, from what I remember at Bethpage, it was a great atmosphere coming down those last few holes.
They will get behind you, you know, if you're playing well. If you hit a bad shot, you may hear about it too. So it's a unique atmosphere, and it's a good one.

Q. Speaking of the Open, you're not too far removed from having to do the 36-hole qualifiers here in Columbus, I assume. How good is it not to have to do that, and how difficult is it to be with a bunch of these guys that are going to have to tee it up first thing Monday morning?
STEVE STRICKER: I'm very happy I don't have to go through that. It's a difficult process. A lot of guys start off in the first, the regional qualifying, first stage, and the local qualifying. So it's difficult.
And you've got 36 days or 36 holes in the day, it's a long day, and you have to play well for that time. It's a grind.
There's a lot of guys that want to be there and make the Open. That's the unique and cool thing about the U.S. Open. It gives the opportunity for anyone, even you, Jim. You could probably tee her up and try to make it. You know what I'm saying? Any amateur who plays well is given the opportunity. That's, I think, the neat thing about the Open.

Q. We've mentioned Kenny Perry and another guy who's winning in his 40s, late in his 40s now, won again this year. You've played with him obviously. Ryder Cup and so forth. Just your thoughts on what you attribute to his ability to remain a viable competitor.
STEVE STRICKER: Kenny hits it a long way. He's a big guy. And that length is going to serve him well into his 50s. Even out here, I think. And if he goes to the Senior Tour, he's going to be, I think, a dominant player out there if he goes there. I think he's got a lot of good years left out here.
He doesn't look -- his game, you know, hasn't really aged. He continues to be -- he may even have told you he may hit it better than he ever has or plays just as good now as he did when he was younger.
That's the cool thing about our game is that, if you continue to stay in shape and work on your game. He's got the ability to hit it long. That's one of the reasons why he's going to continue to be up there.
I'm happy for him. He's a great guy. I see him doing bigger and better things too. He's just getting better.

Q. How have you fared in the past after victories? The first couple of weeks after you've won. Have you learned some lessons at all over the years about how to handle it?
STEVE STRICKER: I'm not sure. I know one -- I think my first win at chem per, I think I came here, to tell you the truth. And then, I don't know, I finished 15th or something like that.
The other ones, I really don't -- I guess at Barclays, I finished in the top ten the next week at, I guess it would have been Deutsche Bank maybe.
But I don't know, you ride such a high. You've got to learn to kind of get back down and get back to work because a new week is starting and it's a quick turnaround. I went home, so even a shorter turnaround.
You know, it's great. You can kind of go out there and relax a little bit. But yet I still feel the pressure and the desire to play well starting tomorrow. So hopefully I'll be ready and get another good tournament.

Q. Just kind of what a couple of these guys have been asking. It seemed like a few years ago golf was really headed towards a young man's game, and between Kenny and Rocco last year and yourself over the last few years, is there something to attribute to guys just seeing that their best golf is ahead of them and not behind them?
STEVE STRICKER: I think it's just experience and hanging around and being out here. Most of us need experience. Very rarely do you see -- the players are so good. Very rarely do you see a young kid come out and just dominate from start of his career to the end. Very rarely, you know. You've got Tiger doing it.
It's just, you know, you need that experience. You need to know how to handle that pressure coming down in the end. You've got to learn how your body reacts to that kind of pressure because it is a different pressure. Your swing is different. Everything's different. Your thinking is different.
I think the more times you can put yourself into that position, especially for me, the better off you feel. Steve Marino was talking about it, how he, after last week he felt much more comfortable being there on Sunday than he did before. He's been in contention a couple times this year.
So it's just getting there time and time again to feel those nerves, to understand how you handle them, and then to take it from there.

Q. You think you'll go to China for the HSBC Championship?
STEVE STRICKER: He cut the questioning off there.

Q. Fair enough.
JOHN BUSH: Steve, thanks for coming by.

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