ERIN, Wisconsin (Reuters) - When PGA Tour veteran Steve Stricker was denied a special exemption to this week’s U.S. Open in his native Wisconsin the PGA Tour veteran simply rolled up his sleeves and qualified the blue-collar way.
So determined was Stricker to play in the first U.S. Open to be played in his home state that he hit the practice grounds and then earned his spot in the year’s second major by firing rounds of 67-65 during a qualifying event last week in Memphis.
”Very exciting to be here,“ local golf hero Stricker told reporters on Tuesday. ”I wasn’t sure if I was going to be here, but very excited, relieved. Worked hard to get here.
“Put a lot of extra effort in playing some extra tournaments. So all in all, it worked out for me to be here.”
The 50-year-old Stricker, a 12-times winner on the PGA Tour who ranked as high as second in the world rankings, has pared down his tournament golf in recent seasons and played just eight events on the PGA Tour this season.
The U.S. Golf Association respectfully declined Stricker’s application for an exemption even though he is certain to be a crowd favourite playing in an event about an hour’s drive from his home.
“I had more and more people come up to me and say, ‘Hey why aren’t you in?’ and pretty soon it became a little chip on my shoulder that I had to work a little bit harder to try to get in,” said Stricker, whose wife will caddie for him.
Stricker said his hard-working path to the U.S. Open, where he will seek his maiden major title, reflects the values of Wisconsin people in general and that he is happy about earning his place rather than having it handed to him.
And while he is hardly among the top contenders this week Stricker, who finished fourth at last year’s British Open, said he is not letting that change his approach.
“I go into every tournament expecting to play well, and this is really no different,” said Stricker, who will serve as the U.S. captain at this year’s Presidents Cup starting on September 28 in New Jersey.
“I‘m going in trying to compete the best that I can and hopefully get in contention. That’s my goal.”
Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by ......