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An Interview With: STEVE STRICKER
KELLY ELBIN: Steve Stricker joining us at the 37th Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club. This will be Steve's debut at The Ryder Cup.
Opening comments, please, on what Ryder Cup experience has been like for you so far the first day or so and what you're anticipating as the week goes on.
STEVE STRICKER: Well, obviously it's been a lot of fun. This being my first time, there's been a few eye opening experiences. Last night we had Lou Holtz in our team room last night, and pretty special moment there.
Going to the Ali Center on Monday evening and just getting together with all the guys, you know, seeing everybody and getting to know everybody a little bit more and their families is always a lot of fun. It should be a great competition. I mean, I think we as underdogs know our role, and we ... you know, we feel good. We feel good about our chances. The guys are getting along well. We're having a good time, and we look forward to the competition.
KELLY ELBIN: Can we get a sense of what Coach Holtz tried to communicate to the team last night?
STEVE STRICKER: Just to have fun, to enjoy it. We made it here, just to go out to relax and enjoy the situation, laugh, have fun, prepare well and be confident and do our best.
Q. Graeme was talking about the setup and how maybe the U.S. Team hadn't really taken into consideration they can hit the ball a long way, also. Do you think the setup is going to be that much conducive for the longer hitters?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, it's going to play into the longer hitters' hands, but Paul knows they're a long hitting team and we have our fair share of long hitters. I don't think he's trying to play into one team's hands versus the other.
I think that's the way he wants to set it up. He wants to set it up where aggressive play is rewarded, and that's what's going to happen. A guy that hits it long and straight is definitely going to be rewarded here. But I don't think he's trying to favor one side or the other because they're probably ... we've all talked about it. They're probably just as long or longer than our team.
Q. I also wanted to ask you, what are some of the subtleties of the alternate shot format from a player's point of view? How much does it matter what style of player that you're partnered with, and what's the mental side of preparing for an alternate shot competition?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, obviously you kind of want to play with somebody that has similar style game than you do. You know, it's difficult if you're playing with a short hitter ... you know, it's always nicer, I guess, if you play with a long hitter, but if you're playing with a short hitter, you've got to kind of hit shots that you haven't been practicing, you're a little farther back.
I played with Corey Pavin one Presidents Cup in alternate shot format, and we made a great team, but it just was different. I was hitting different shots into greens than what I was accustomed to hitting. You kind of want to play with similar style games. And just the fact of hitting every other shot is an adjustment.
The few times I have played, it's hard. Sometimes you have a putt that means nothing for six holes. Chad Campbell told me yesterday in one of his Ryder Cup Matches that he really didn't have a meaningful putt for about 13 holes. You've got to get used to that and realize that that could happen through the course of a round.
Q. How important is it for you guys to get off to a good start? I mean, the past two, not only have there been losses but they have been routes and as effective and you could have been just to come all the way back seems to have that much more difficult. How important is that to not let that happen?
STEVE STRICKER: I think it's important for us to get off to a good start, obviously to gain some momentum. We have six rookies on the team, which I think are a good thing.
We haven't experienced some of those defeats in the previous years, and I think it's important that we do get off to a good start to gain some momentum and just roll from there.
Obviously it's a long competition. I mean, there's five rounds, so if you do get behind a little bit, there's plenty of time to make it up.
Q. Kind of what you just mentioned about the rookies not having experienced this, when Mickelson was in here yesterday he said it's not a bad thing to not have experienced the last three Ryder Cups. Is there ... I don't know, even though you haven't been on this team, is there a sense among you guys about the role reversal of being the underdog and maybe not having the pressure of past teams to perform?
STEVE STRICKER: Not at all. We're just ... we're not thinking about what's happened the last few Ryder Cups. We're thinking about what we need to do this week, how do we need to prepare this week and to play our best and move forward, and we're looking forward.
We're just trying to get past what's happened in the past years and concentrate on what we need to do, what we need to do to win and to bring the Cup back, and that's what we're trying to focus on is the present and what we need to do to play well.
Q. A couple questions. Just quickly, is it odd to be referred to as a rookie?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, it is (laughing). An old rookie.
Q. Secondly, going back to kind of Mark's question, not so much alternate shot, but just partnerships in general, what makes for a good partnership? And secondly, how much of an advantage do you think it's been for Europe that they've been able to send the same teams out essentially year after year in the last four or five years? Is it a product of continuing to win or more panic on the American side, if you keep track of all that?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, thanks. Yeah, I think it's important to have a guy with similar personalities, not only the game style be similar, but I think if you play with a guy that has similar personalities, I think it always helps, same type of demeanor on the course, you know, a guy that you're friends with, you've played practice rounds on tour together, whatever, I think is always a good thing, and just feeling comfortable with a guy I think is a good thing.
So I think that's important. And then I think you're right, the fact that the Europeans have been able to pair with each other through the years, year after year, is a definite advantage. I mean, and that they've won. They've continually won and get those positive feelings with each other and all but good times.
They haven't experienced any losses lately, so we'd like to turn that around and be on the winning side. But I think you're right, they just have a lot of comfort with each other just because of all the past successes that they've had.
Q. What was it like watching the last couple of Ryder Cups and watching them win so decisively, and from the outside, what type of conclusions were you able to come up with about why it was happening?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, I didn't know really. I could tell that they were making a lot more putts than we were. I think that was easy to see.
It looked like ... it was painful to watch, to tell you the truth, to watch fellow TOUR players and friends go through that. It didn't look like they were having any fun, and rightly so. Anybody who is losing this competition isn't going to have any fun. The Europeans looked like they were having all the fun in the world, and again, rightly so, because they were drumming us.
Again, we hope to do the old role reversal this year and make the putts and have the fun and be the team on top.
Q. Regardless of whether you're winning and losing, from the standpoint of having fun, how important is it to have Boo on the team this week?
STEVE STRICKER: Boo is a lot of fun. Getting to know Boo, I hadn't really had the opportunity to get to know Boo before this week. I haven't seen him a lot yet, but just some of the comments. He's kind of like the Woody on our team, really. He provides that laughter and comic relief when we need it at times. It's been fun.
Q. Anecdotes on Boo?
STEVE STRICKER: Any anecdotes on Boo? No.
Q. Having visited the Ali Center on Monday, Justin was asked who on this team was Muhammad Ali, he said you.
STEVE STRICKER: Really?
Q. Yeah. Any idea why?
STEVE STRICKER: No idea.
Q. He went on to say that where he was, that you proved to be somewhat of an inspiration to him to get his game back in order. Did you ever consider what kind of an impact you might have had on other players who have kind of gone into a hole and dug themselves out?
STEVE STRICKER: I hadn't ... no, I hadn't thought of it at all. I mean, I've been so worried about trying to get my own game going, and Justin and I have become pretty good friends over the last year and played quite a bit of golf together. But no, I never really thought of it that way. I've looked at other players. I mean, there's a number of stories from players losing their game to not coming back to guys going through some slumps and then coming back. I mean, it's just the nature of our game. But I've never really thought of myself being an inspiration to other players.
I know Justin went through a little downtime. It wasn't that bad. It was probably a year long or whatever. But no, I've never thought of it that way.
Q. Who was your inspiration?
STEVE STRICKER: You know, I looked at Ian Baker Finch a lot, and even though he didn't come back, I didn't want to fall into that trap by just staying away from the game. I love Ian Baker Finch, he's a friend, but just to see where he went ... I mean, I can still see that it tugs at him a little bit, that he would love to play and be out there, but he just ... for whatever reason, he doesn't. And I didn't want to go down that road.
I wanted to get my game back and play again. I looked at him, and I don't know, some of the other players, it's happened so long ago, and I try not to even go back to those thoughts anymore. I try to just continue on the things I've been doing and moving forward.
Q. I'd like to go back down that road just ever so briefly. Was there ever a time you were offered a club pro job?
STEVE STRICKER: No. Should I have been (laughter)?
Q. What was the emotion like on The Presidents Cup team, and how many people ... when you ask people what the difference is going to be between that and this, what have they told you?
STEVE STRICKER: Well, you know, The Presidents Cup team, I played on the '96 and then last year, and even the difference between those two years have been a great deal. You know, that event has turned into ... some guys are telling me that it's getting closer to this event as far as impact, the type of crowds, the atmosphere and everything else.
But they're telling me here, this is another level of anxiety, I guess, but to have fun with it. That's the bottom line that they're telling us. You're going to be nervous; first tee is a tough one. But I always figured if you prepare well and you feel good about your game, all those things tend to be a little bit easier.
So that's what I've been doing. I've been preparing the last couple of months, looking forward to this time and knowing that it's going to be a tough situation at times.
I played on The Presidents Cup Team, I thought going up there last year to Canada was tough. The crowds were very pro International Team, so I thought that was a good experience leading up to this. So I feel like that was good preparation for this.
Q. Of all the things that you've done since restoring your game, whether it's getting back your card or winning at Westchester, what have you, where do you rank this?
STEVE STRICKER: Right at the top. This has been a goal of mine since becoming a TOUR member. I've been close a couple of times. I've gotten a call twice from captains on the other end of it, saying you were close, but we can't pick you.
So it's been ... every time that I've gotten that call, it's kind of ... it makes you think a little bit harder and try a little bit harder to try and make this team, and finally I'm here. So it's a great opportunity, something that I'll have forever, these memories and thinking back. But it was; this was right at the top of my list, trying to be here and finally making it here has been a huge goal, and I finally achieved it.
Q. Bigger than winning?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I would say so. The honor and the prestige of playing here at The Ryder Cup and for your country I think is way more important than an individual thing. And we don't get the opportunity to play in team competition.
So yeah, I feel like this is a bigger honor and at the top of the list.
Q. Bigger than being two time Comeback Player of the Year?
STEVE STRICKER: You're asking too many questions (laughter).
KELLY ELBIN: Three solid finishes coming into this week. Just general comments about the condition of your game personally.
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, it's been going in the right direction. You know, anticipating hopefully that I was going to be a pick, I was still working very hard on my game and looking forward to this competition. I didn't know if I was going to be here or not, but I had to kind of ... after falling out of the top eight, I still felt like I was auditioning for one of those picks.
So I felt like I needed to play well in those three events, and I have, and my game is moving in the right direction.
Q. Talking about watching other Ryder Cups and watching the Europeans make a lot of putts and everything, is the speed of these greens, are they going to be conducive to your game and your team? And also, how they're contoured, is it going to be easier to make putts than maybe it has been at some other Ryder Cups?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, good question. I think the speed is still rather slow right now, but they're telling us that that's going to pick up each day and get to tournament speed by Thursday. You know, right now they're not very fast. I didn't do a lot of putting yesterday, just knowing the fact that they are going to speed up.
I think there's going to be a lot of putts made. The areas of the greens are fairly flat. There are some tough spots, but overall, they're fairly flat. And I think you're going to see a lot of putts made. I think the way the course is set up, it's getting a little firmer. I think you're going to see a lot of birdies, and you're going to need to make birdies to win the holes.
KELLY ELBIN: 41 year old Ryder Cup rookie, Steve Stricker. Thanks very much.
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