8/10 • 3 - 6 PM
U.S. SENIOR OPEN
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Steve Stricker is happy to be back competing and mingling with fans after a serious health scare last fall. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)
When he was asked about his health on Friday after Round 2 of the 42nd U.S. Senior Open at Saucon Valley Country Club, Steve Stricker did his best to downplay the question.
“I think, like all of us out here, we’re experiencing some sort of aches and pains, and I’m no different,” said the 55-year-old native of Madison, Wis. “That’s been the challenge since coming back, that I haven’t quite gotten rid of those like I was before I had this problem.”
That “problem” the 2019 U.S. Senior Open champion referred to was a mysterious illness that landed him in the hospital for two weeks last November, about six weeks after he captained the USA Team to victory in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in his home state.
Stricker had a reaction to an antibiotic he took for a sore throat, but then things really spiraled downward, with symptoms that included fever, an elevated heart rate and soaring white blood cell count. Stricker lost 25 pounds and had no appetite or energy. He said he had nothing to eat for two weeks, and he didn’t pick up a club for four months, by far the longest he has ever gone without playing since he took up the game.
“They don’t know if it was a virus,” Stricker told Wisconsin Golf in January. “They didn’t put a name to it. They couldn’t figure it out.”
Stricker kept his sense of humor, though. At one point after his weight loss, Golf Digest reported that he texted Justin Thomas to say, “Hey, I’m at your weight. If I could only swing it with your speed, I’d be all right.”
Stricker returned to PGA Tour Champions in April, and he returned to the winner’s circle in May, capturing his fourth senior major at the Regions Tradition in Birmingham, Ala., by a six-stroke margin over Padraig Harrington. On Saturday, Stricker and Harrington, his rival captain in the 2021 Ryder Cup for Team Europe, are playing in the final pairing at 2:55 p.m. EDT. Harrington, making his U.S. Senior Open debut at 50, shot a 6-under-par 65 on Friday to assume a one-stroke lead over Stricker.
As the leaders start play, temperatures in the Lehigh Valley area will be near 90 degrees, conditions that are likely to exacerbate the testing conditions of Saucon Valley’s Old Course for the players.
“My physicalness isn’t where I really want it to be yet,” said Stricker earlier this week. “I’m trying to play a little bit and work on that part all at the same time, and it’s been a little bit of a challenge. The big challenge is my body changed so much; I lost all my strength, and whatever muscle I did have was gone. It’s coming back, but not as fast as I’d like.”
He knows exactly how to help himself this weekend.
“My game is OK; we’ll see, though,” said Stricker. “The big thing is to get the ball on the fairway here. If you can do that, then things will ease up on you a little bit.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.