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August 10, 2011

Steve Stricker


KELLY ELBIN: The fifth-ranked golfer in the world, Steve Stricker, joining us here at the 93rd PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Steve's best finish was second in 1998 at Sahalee outside of Seattle. Steve tied for 11th at the Masters, tied for 19th at the U.S. Open, tied for 12th at the Open Championship, and looks like you're getting closer and closer to that first major championship title.
STEVE STRICKER: Thank you, yeah, it's nice to be here. Got a great test. The course is in great shape. And I'm excited about the way I've been playing this year and look forward to a challenging week. It's very tough out there. So it puts a premium on your game and everything about your game, really. So it will be a tough test.
KELLY ELBIN: Been a lot of talk about the last four holes. Care to comment on the degree of difficulty of those four?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I just got off of there. They are very extreme. They are very long. Any little miss is magnified, especially like at 15, with the water there, and 18, too.
So they are very difficult. You know, if you can play that stretch of holes in par, you've done yourself some favors.
So it is a good stretch, and it's a very difficult stretch.

Q. Outside of -- since club pros are involved in the event, outside of some of your in-laws, was there a club pro that had a big impact on your career at any point in your life?
STEVE STRICKER: It was actually my father-in-law, really. The course I grew up on in Edgerton, we didn't have a club pro. It was mainly a general manager of a club or a bartender that took your money, and that was it.
So it wasn't really until I met my wife, Nicki, and got to know her family and got to know her father and got to find out a little bit more about that side of the business.

Q. Lee was in here yesterday and he was talking about how his attitude this week is trying to not to care as much and just be more carefree and put less pressure on himself. He thought maybe over the last few years, because he's had more opportunities, that he had put more pressure on himself. Do you find yourself, you know, at each major, maybe applying too much pressure, and is it hard to sort of step back and just relax and not care at one of these events?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, you know, it is hard to step back and de-emphasize it.
You know, I go into each major, and everybody does, wanting to play their best and wanting to play well. It's hard to take that step back. And even when you do, you're probably still ahead of any normal tournament that you play in as far as wanting to play well.
So it's a difficult challenge, and that's what separates a lot of the players I think, you know, the guys that can kind of treat it just like any other round, any other shot, to guys that maybe put so much pressure on their game and themselves that it affects their play.

Q. Talk about your old college teammate, Mike Small. When you guys were playing at Illinois, who had the better game, and could he have done this if he had set his mind to it, to have been a regular Tour guy?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I think he could have, and he did do it. He was a member of the Tour for a year, I think.
I played 18 holes with him, nine yesterday and nine today. First of all, he's a great guy. He's doing a great job there at the U of I, being the men's golf coach there. He's just a great friend. He's an easy guy to be around.
And I think he could have done this, you know, full-time. He definitely has the game. But I think where he's at now is really what he enjoys. He's helping kids. He's doing a great job there and he's still playing golf. So he's got best of both worlds, I think.

Q. Does he ever look back and say, what if?
STEVE STRICKER: No, not that I know of. He did it for that year, and he tried to play professionally for a while. But he just wanted to do something else, I think. The daily grind of trying to make money and to support your family I think bothered him a little bit, and I think he wanted to have something a little bit more permanent and full-time.
But like I say, he's still playing and he's doing a great job doing both. His teams have been ranked -- he's been ranked No. 1 in the country, the University of Illinois has, and consistently in the top ten. And then he's going out and playing on the side and doing quite well at times doing that, too.
So he's got a great thing going.

Q. Do you remember at any point in maybe one of your wins where a caddie talked you into a shot that turned out to be the right play that maybe wasn't your first choice? Any shot that stands out where a caddie really had a big input on your decision making?
STEVE STRICKER: You know, they help along the way. I don't know of one that really stands out more than the other.
You know, caddies play a pretty vital role. When I won the John Deere a month ago, my caddie, Jimmy Johnson, it really wasn't so much the club that he picked but it was the things he kept saying coming down the stretch. He's like, "Keep hanging in there. We've got two more holes to play; if we can birdie 17, you never know what can happen on 18." You know, he kept saying that. He said it two or three times.
And you know, he was right. We hung in there. We ended up birdieing 17, and we flipped it on 18, and it was a two-shot swing. Stuff like that. It's not necessarily pulling the club sometimes, but it's what they say during the course of a round that can actually change your attitude or how you perceive things during that course of the round.

Q. What about the flipside? At Memorial you had the lead and you're trying to hold it together; are there some things that can be said at times like that, as well?
STEVE STRICKER: Same thing there. Just do the same things. I can remember him saying, "Just do the same things what we've done to get here. Be patient. Hit the smart shot." Just trying to play psychologist out there more than anything. That's important at times.

Q. I was wondering if I can tap into your veteran knowledge and ask what you've seen up close and from afar of Rickie Fowler and his game. You saw a front row seat of what he did down the stretch in Wales, so I was wondering if you could speak about his game and what you see.
STEVE STRICKER: You know, I don't know if I've played a competitive round with him yet. Maybe some of the practice rounds at The Ryder Cup.
But first of all, he's a great kid. He was a true joy to be around last year on The Ryder Cup Team, and obviously he's got a lot of game. I mean, he's got everything. He hits it far. He dresses very nicely; you know that's always important (smiling).
He's a good kid. I think that's the thing that strikes me about him the most is he's really a down-to-earth, genuine kid. He's fun to be around and he's got a lot of game.

Q. There's kind of been obviously an overhaul of the grasses here since 2001. Can you talk about the difference that you've seen in that from ten years ago, and how cognizant are you in your preparation for playing surfaces and how does that factor into getting ready for an event like this?
STEVE STRICKER: I really don't remember 2001 that well, how it played.
But the way it's playing now, you know, I think it was a little softer back in 2001, and now it's playing a little bit firmer. The greens are, I think, definitely faster than 2001, if I can remember, slightly.
The course is in great shape. I've never seen a course as in good a shape as what we are playing this week. But it's very difficult, on the flipside. It's longer; it's 250 yards longer than 2001, and it's just difficult. And I think the grasses have a lot to do with that. The greens are rolling out I think a little more. They are definitely faster. The fairways are the best I've ever played on. They've done a great job here. It had to cost a lot of money to do what they did, but it's unbelievable how good it is.

Q. The majors, six in a row without an American, is this more of a PGA Tour-style course that perhaps Americans might have better shot at breaking the streak than some others?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't know if it's a typical PGA Tour course. But I don't think it really matters where you come from to play here, you know, to tell you the truth. It's right in front of you. There's no tricks. It's just you've got to suck it up on every shot and hit good shots. It's that demanding.
So I really don't think it favors one part of the world player over another to tell you the truth. You know, maybe some southern guys that grew up on bermudagrass and greens may have a slight advantage. It's a little difficult. I find it difficult chipping out of the stuff; I'm not accustomed to it; I grew up on bentgrass. I think it could favor that type of player that grew up on bermuda more so than anything.

Q. The whole streak, Americans not winning in six straight majors or whatever it is, is that more of a media-contrived thing, or is that something that the players out there talk about or think about or are bothered by?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, we don't sit around and talk about it over lunch or anything.
I think personally, I've thought about it. I think all of the American players have probably thought about it because it's in the story -- it's in the media quite a bit. I think what's happened the last six majors, you know, I think fuels the fire of Americans to try to get better and to work at it and to try to break that streak, no doubt.

Q. We don't have to tell you since you just came in, it's hot in Georgia in August. We normally talk about the British Open conditions being a factor, wind, rain, that sort of thing.

Q. Do you think heat and fatigue are going to be a factor, and will it be mentally draining out there in the afternoons?
STEVE STRICKER: I do think it will be a factor. Most of the guys are in shape, they are in golf shape; they have played all year long. But it's easier to get a little more frustrated in the heat. Everybody knows when the heat gets to you, you get frustrated, especially when you're playing this game. So I think it could affect you that way and maybe later in the tournament. Fatigue could definitely be a factor. I mean, it drains you.
And I think guys are probably, you know, taking it a little more easier the first three days here, playing a little bit be. I know the guys that I've played with are playing a little bet less and just trying to prepare themselves for the rest of the week and making sure they have enough in the tank come Sunday.

Q. Lee was also asked about being that quote-unquote, best player in the world who hasn't won a major. When that conversation's brought up, your name comes up among that group of guys. Does that motivate you, bother you, mean anything to you at all?
STEVE STRICKER: Haven't really thought about it to tell you the truth. It's a nice distinction to have, I guess, that they think that you're good enough to win a major. But still, you haven't won a major. So it's -- I try not to worry about any of that stuff, I really don't. And I just try to go out and play and do the best I can and hopefully get an opportunity to try to win one coming down the last few holes.

Q. A couple of the guys have talked about the 260-yard par 3 as being excessively long. Do you have an opinion on a par 3 that would be that long?
STEVE STRICKER: Mike Small said it the best to me today. He said, "It's a dogleg par 3." That's pretty good. You play over there to the left, if you can hit it in the bunker and then you play over there on the green to the right.
You know, you're going to see that bunker is going to get a workout over there. It's too long. It doesn't need to be that long. It really -- it doesn't. Some of the greatest par 3s in the world are short par 3s, and this is just a par 3 that's very demanding, over the top. But everybody's got to play it on the other end, so it's something that you're going to have to suck it up and hit a good shot and move on.
KELLY ELBIN: Steve Stricker, thank you very much.

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