Insider: Wary of Stricker's expectations; liking Byrd

July 11, 2012
Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

SILVIS, Ill. -- Steve Stricker is grinding.

At a point in his career and in his season when he should be enjoying his success, Stricker is grinding to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team.


He begins this week ranked 13th in Ryder Cup standings. That's one spot behind Bo Van Pelt and one ahead of Jim Furyk.

After winning in the first week of the 2012 season at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, it appeared Stricker had a clear lane to make the team but that's no longer the case.

That's because Sticker is no longer the best putter on the PGA TOUR.

Stricker has never been a long driver. He's averaging 279.5 yards per drive this year and that ranks 163rd on TOUR.

The lack of distance never bothered him, because Stricker understood the strengths and weaknesses of his game and played to his strengths better than anyone else.

Stricker was able to score and win because he was the best wedge player and putter. He is still a great wedge player but has been inconsistent on the greens this season.

From 50-125 yards, Stricker hits it an average distance of 14 feet, 6 inches from the hole. That's second best on TOUR. The problem with Stricker's game is he no longer makes those putts.

In 2011, Stricker was number one on TOUR in making putts of 15 feet or less. On putts in the 5-to-10 foot range, Stricker converted 64.22 percent of the time. That ranked as fourth best on TOUR last year.

This season, Stricker makes 53.72 percent of those putts in the 5-to-10 foot distance and that ranks 114th on TOUR.

Stricker is grinding to make the Ryder Cup team because he hasn't putted well. The strength of his game has not been strong this year -- he has dropped to 72nd in Strokes Gained-Putting after ranking second in 2011.

Stricker is still having a good season, though. He's 20th in FedExCup points, has won $1.9 million and is a tournament winner.

But he's still grinding to make that Ryder Cup team to the point where Stricker added last week's Greenbrier Classic to his schedule to pick up points.

All of which brings us to this week's John Deere Classic. It's like an annuity for Stricker. He's won it three straight times but that also can create problems.

One of the worse things a golfer can do is begin competition with high expectations, and how can Stricker not have lofty goals this week?

After you've won a tournament three times in a row, a 10th-place finish might seem disappointing.

Stricker is such a veteran presence and leader that Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III should add him to the team no matter how he finishes the season.

But this season, this week, has turned into a grind for Steve Stricker.

Receptive: TPC Deere Run has plenty of water on it this year, creating soft conditions. That's out of necessity. The course is comprised of bentgrass greens and fairways, a cool-weather grass that does not tolerate prolonged periods of high temperatures. It's been brutally hot in Illinois this summer and the greens have been watered just to keep the grass alive.

If you wonder why golfers always shoot good scores at TPC Deere Run, it's because the course is kept moist during summer months because of the heat.

This is not an easy golf course. Infact, I think it is the single most underrated course on the PGA TOUR.

Conditions demand watering the greens and anytime you have receptive putting surfaces you are going to have low scores.

Rock River: The par-3 16th hole sits on a bluff above the Rock River. It's named "Mother Earth" in honor of Native American tribes who use to frequent the area. Every time I stand on the green, I think of Ronald Reagan.

The President use to spend his teenage summers as a lifeguard on the Rock River not far from TPC Deere Run. He once called it the happiest time of his life.

Upon his election, Reagan received a telegram that said, "The Rock River rolls for you tonight Mr. President."

Everytime I stand by the 16th green, I think of our 40th President.

RV'ing: This is the week for RVs on the PGA TOUR. If you look behind the second green, there is a large lot and eight players have parked their spacious RVs on the property. They get to walk to work and when tournament play concludes, all the families gather around for a social night in the RV lot.

Pork chops: This is a different week on TOUR. Silvis, Ill., is small-town USA. You drive past cornfields on the way to the course, every house has a front porch and many fly an American flag out front. This is also the week for pig. The tournament serves up the best grilled pork chop during media lunch. Delicious.

Winner, winner: I have not been to the John Deere Classic since 2007 when Jonathan Byrd won. I think history repeats itself this week. Byrd enters play with five Top 10s on his resume this year and has made seven straight cuts. He ranks in the top 20 in SGP and scrambling. Nothing runs like a Deere or flies like a bird. Jonathan Byrd wins this week.