By Gary D’Amato, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
MEDINAH, Ill. — Seeing Steve Stricker in bright red pants is a little like seeing Brett Favre in a three-piece suit and Italian loafers, or hood flames on a Bentley.
It’s an alternate-universe kind of thing, a clash of images that don’t belong together.
Stricker’s conservative taste in clothes runs toward dark solids. The brightest color in his wardrobe is beige. But the U.S. Ryder Cup uniform called for red pants Wednesday, so that’s what he wore during his practice round at Medinah Country Club.
When was the last time he wore red slacks?
“Never,” he said with a laugh. “And this is probably the last time, too.”
What Stricker lacks in sartorial sizzle, he makes up for with a timeless fairways-and-greens golf game and the experience and wisdom gained from a 20-year career. At 45, he’s the oldest member of either Ryder Cup team, though modesty prevents him from throwing his weight around in the U.S. team room.
“You know me,” he said. “I do my thing. I’m quiet. If somebody asks my opinion or asks me a question, I’ll offer it up. But I’m not one who’s going to be overbearing and be at the forefront.
“I just kind of do my own thing and try to be a good team player. And if somebody were to ask me a few things here or there, I’d surely love to help out anybody who’s asking for it.”
Stricker, of Madison, Wis., finished 10th on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list and was one of captain Davis Love III’s four at-large picks. Stricker has a 3-3-1 record in two previous Ryder Cup appearances and is one of just two U.S. team members without a losing record (Zach Johnson also is 3-3-1).
It was a no-brainer for Love to pick Stricker, who has been one of the most consistent players in the game since his career resurgence in 2006 and has always been regarded as one of the best putters in the world.
Most important, though, is that Stricker and Tiger Woods have been very good match-play partners.
Before he went 4-0 with Stricker at the 2009 Presidents Cup, Woods had a hard time finding a partner, which helps to explain his 13-14-2 Ryder Cup record despite a 4-1-1 mark in singles.
As the dominant player in the game from 1997 to 2008, Woods built an aura that carried over into the team events. His game meshed with no one else’s. He intimidated his own teammates, who didn’t relish playing in the white-hot spotlight that followed him everywhere.
Stricker admitted he once was one of the players who was intimidated by Woods and mostly tried to avoid him. But for years they had the same agent, Mark Steinberg, and as Stricker gained confidence following a mid-career slump, he began looking forward to being paired with Woods. Then they became friends.
They’re not frequent dinner companions and they don’t really hang out off the course. But Woods respects Stricker’s game and his demeanor and has not been above asking him for help with his putting.
Undeniably, they have chemistry as match-play partners, having gone 4-1 in two Presidents Cups and 2-1 at the 2010 Ryder Cup.
“Somebody has to play in Tiger’s bubble, and I think that’s the challenge,” Love said. “Steve Stricker has found his way into that pairing because he can handle everything that’s going on around Tiger.”
Love put Woods and Stricker together for practice rounds at Medinah, which almost certainly means they will be paired together when the Ryder Cup begins Friday, either in foursomes or four-balls.
“It’s no secret that Tiger likes to play with Stricker,” Love said.
Why do they play well together? Stricker has been asked that question 1,000 times, and he was asked again Wednesday.
“I don’t know why (other) guys have struggled,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed playing with him. We have a good time. We’ve had some good matches and we’ve gotten beaten up a couple times, too. But it’s always fun. We get along very well together.
“You know, I think our games are totally different. He bombs it and I’m more of a control player. But I think our ability to scramble, to get it up and down and to make some putts here and there is our connection.”
Should the United States win the Ryder Cup for only the second time since 1999, Stricker could wind up playing a huge role. Love will count on him and Woods for points and won’t hesitate to put Stricker out late in singles Sunday.
Hoisting Samuel Ryder’s trophy at Medinah would be a dream come true for Stricker, a University of Illinois graduate who lives just a couple of hours up the road.
“I hear a lot of Illinois chants and I heard a lot of Badger chants today, so I’m getting a lot of support here, which is pretty cool,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and I expect a boisterous crowd, and we’re going to need it.
“We need that 13th man on our side with the home crowd and the energy to help us because it’s going to be tough for us. It’s going to be a tough match.”