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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, July 26, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Steve Stricker has been one of the best players in the world since 2006. (PHOTO: PGA of America)

Golf loses with Stricker's semi-retirement


The one sport that most needs an offseason but refuses to create one – PGA Tour golf – is already into its fifth week of the 2013 season and really, who has noticed?

This isn't to discredit the newly minted champions of the last four weeks, but let's face it – for the general public this sport won't matter much until The Masters comes around in April. But for the last few years Wisconsinites have found the sport very interesting due in large part to the presence of one man – Steve Stricker.

By now, Stricker's story is well known.

The Edgerton native has long lived in Madison, even in the winters, and had one of the most incredible careers to date in golf. From 1994 to 2001 he was one of the game's better players, winning three times, but he fell into a horrific slump that resulted in the loss of his card in 2004. He even contemplated quitting the game.

Then, he found the magic again, earning PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007. In the last six years he has won nine times, posted six top 10s in major championships and represented the United States in six international team competitions.

He also rose to as high as No.2 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Yet over the last few years, he has struggled with a neck injury that has caused weakness in his left arm. Now, he is dealing with a back issue that is causing pain in his legs.

The physical toll of nearly 20 years of professional golf – and a near lifetime in the sport – as well as a desire to spend more time with his family here in Wisconsin led to his announcement at the beginning of the year that he was going into, essentially, semi-retirement.

"This is a commitment for me to do this from here on out," Stricker said at the beginning of the month. "You know, I'm not quitting. I don't want to quit. I still enjoy the game. I still enjoy competing."

Stricker, who turns 46 in less than a month, has averaged 20 tournaments a year since his rebirth in 2006. Now, he says he will only play in about 10.

This extra time will also allow for the creation of his foundation, created in partnership with Madison-based American Family Insurance.

"It's time to spend a little bit more time at home I think, do this foundation work, and just come out fresh and ready and prepare when I do play," Stricker said.

"I still think I can play well and to a high level. I just probably won't be out as much as I have in the past years, but excited about it, too. I'm extremely excited about it. It was kind of a weight lifted off, when I've made the decision, and so it's been good. And this foundation is really an exciting thing for us in the Madison area, too."

He was right on about playing at a high level, despite his physical ailments – he nearly defended his title at the season-opening Tournament of Champions and finished in second place.

No doubt people across the state are happy for "Strick" and his decision – he's done enough in the game, and for this state, to pull back and spend his time the way he chooses. And there is no doubt his newly created foundation is going to raise millions of dollars for whatever causes he deems fit.

Yet, and this is very selfish of me to say, I don't like it.

Stricker is one of the all-time great guys, a sentiment shared by anyone who has ever spent any time with the man. As a member of the media, he is one of the best professional athletes I have ever covered. He is always honest, emotional, quotable.

We'll be missing a guy who has been one of the world's best players for nearly a decade. His passion for winning, for his country, is inspiring to anyone who watches him tee it up.

Think about it – he's already completed 10 percent of his season.

Fortunately, he'll be competing in all of the bigger tournaments going forward, most notably the three stateside major championships and the John Deere Classic down in Silvis, Ill. (the closest thing Milwaukee and Wisconsin has to a PGA Tour stop now).

They say you never know what you've got til it's gone, but trust me – we here in Wisconsin definitely know what we'll be missing this golf season.

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