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Reigning SENIOR PLAYERS champ Steve Stricker aims for return from illness in April

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Reigning SENIOR PLAYERS champ Steve Stricker aims for return from illness in April

    Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour

    Round 4 highlights at Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS

    Doctors never have been able to pinpoint what illness befell Steve Stricker and forced him off the golf course from October until just this week.

    The Wisconsin native, who lost nearly 30 pounds across two hospital stays and had inflammation develop around his heart, said he was cleared to begin playing in the past few days. He walked nine holes on Sunday in the Bradenton-Sarasota area where he and his family have been staying and made it through his first 18 on Monday, albeit with the use of a cart.

    Because of his weakened state, Stricker, 55, withdrew from this week’s THE PLAYERS Championship. He had earned an invitation by winning the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship in June 2021. In fact, Stricker blitzed the field at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, finishing six strokes clear of runner-up Jerry Kelly.

    “When I started to feel a little better in January, this was the goal … to try to get back to play THE PLAYERS Championship,” Stricker said. “It’s very frustrating not to be able to play. We love going as a family. We just enjoy the area. It’s our flagship event on the PGA TOUR. We have had some really great times there.

    “I thought I was done there till I won the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS, and if they want to give me the spot next year, I’ll take it. Winning it again this summer will be my goal to try to get back in.”

    For now, it’s baby steps for Stricker. He admitted to having some aches and pains after his 18 on Monday, but he was mostly positive.

    “I feel great. My body isn’t very well yet as far as strength and just trying to … you know, I lost 25 to 30 pounds,” Stricker said. “I’ve put 15 back on since then. That’s good. Now I can start to work out a little bit, got the all clear.

    “It’s coming down to a strength deal. And you put so much torque on your body. That’s the hard part. I’m not strong enough to swing it very fast, and then when I do, my muscles aren’t there to kind of support that speed at times. I’ve got some aches and pains. I’m trying to get that all better and get stronger so I can start to swing it a little bit faster.”

    Stricker is listed on his PGA TOUR profile as 6 feet and 190 pounds. One can imagine at 160 that would be gaunt and borderline scary.

    Stricker said that at his worst he couldn’t eat because he couldn’t manage enough saliva to chew food and swallow it. When he finally did feel well enough to eat, he said doctors told him to consume anything he felt like eating.

    Really, it’s the dream of most every man in his 50s, one's doctor going green light on calorie consumption.

    Stricker laughed.

    “It was fun for a while putting on weight,” said the victorious captain of the 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup team. “I was eating doughnuts and ice cream and anything I wanted. Then I was like, 'I better stop doing that.' At first they were like, 'Eat whatever you can.' But you start putting on weight and you get into some bad habits really quick.

    “My daughter was going to Dunkin’ Donuts and getting me the little mini donuts. Yeah, donut holes (Dunkin’ calls them Munchkins). I was switching it up. It was a time I didn’t have any saliva. I had to eat something small just to get it down. Those donut holes worked.”

    Stricker, ever the competitor, is eager to resume his playing career on PGA TOUR Champions. He said he hasn’t circled any particular event for his return, just that he’ll be out there as soon as he feels strong enough to play well.

    “I still have some pain in my body that I’m trying to deal with,” Stricker said. “I think it will go away once I get a little stronger. I don’t have to swing as fast as I did before necessarily, but I’d like to be able to swing without pain and walk 18 holes. I don’t really want to hop in a cart, even though I could. I just would rather walk and I’ll work toward that.

    “The one good thing is that every couple of weeks I see progression. Even though I’d love to be out there now, in two weeks’ time I’ll be in a better spot.”

    Stricker didn’t rule out returning at the Rapiscan Systems Classic in Biloxi, Mississippi, which is next up on the schedule, April 1-3. But he also is smart enough to see that there’s a three-week break after that before a two-stop (two-step?) Texas swing that begins with the new ClubCorp Classic in Dallas, April 22-24.

    That would allow him to play two or three events before the year’s first major, the Regions Tradition in Birmingham, Alabama, May 12-15.

    “That’s kind of my goal, to make sure I’m healthy and good enough to play the Regions Tradition and hopefully get in an event or two before that,” Stricker said.

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