Steve Stricker (pre-championship)
BETH MAJOR: We would like to welcome Steve Stricker to the Olympic Club. He's playing in his 17th U.S. Open. In 1998 here at Olympic Club he finished tied for fifth. Steve, can you talk a little bit about playing in '98 and having played well then and realizing it's 14 years later, what you bring here this year.
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I remember obviously the course, but what I really remember that year is I played with Lee Janzen the final round and I was able to have a front row seat on his win, his U.S. Open win, and all the things that took place during that round.
The ball up in the tree and then chipping in for par on I think that was the fifth hole. Fourth hole? Fifth hole.
So that's what I really remember about it. The experience coming down the stretch with him and obviously me trying to hang in there and finish in the Top‑10, but just what it took to win a championship. And Lee's a friend of mine, so it was kind of cool to be with him that day.
BETH MAJOR: You've been playing well in 2012. You started the season off with a victory. Talk about how you're playing and how you're feeling coming into this week.
STEVE STRICKER: It's been a pretty good year. The last month has been a little unlike what I've been doing the last five or six years, just haven't been able to get the ball in the hole really as well as I have been over the last few years. But hitting the ball still fine.
So looking forward to this week. I put a lot of time in chipping and putting at home and trying to get that a little bit straighter in my mind and what's been going on. So hopefully put it all together this week and I enjoy the course. I love being here. It's a great traditional golf course. It's in great shape. So look forward to getting off to a good start and playing well this week.
BETH MAJOR: Open it up to questions.
Q. Do you ever get to the point where you start thinking it is my turn?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't come into an event, any event thinking about winning. I think about trying to play well. And what it leads to from there is another thing, I guess.
I'm 45, my chances are probably dwindling a little bit, but I still feel like my game is pretty good. I do a lot of good things still, I think. I keep the ball in play. Besides the last month or so, I've been playing fairly smart, but the last month has been a little different. I've thrown some shots away and really not taken care of my game the way I normally do.
So hopefully with what's on the line this week I'll be a little bit sharper mentally and get things going.
But, yeah, I would love to have the opportunity, don't get me wrong, I would love to have the opportunity come Sunday or the last nine holes or the last few holes to have the chance to win. But I don't think that way, to answer your question.
Q. You now played all four of the U.S. Opens courses in California. What he's it like being here now without having to deal with the poa?
STEVE STRICKER: It's unbelievable. It doesn't even feel like we're in California with the greens that we're putting on. The greens are so good, so true, not an ounce of poa annua in them.
So it's really a treat. The whole course is in great shape. They have done a great job here getting it ready and prepared for us.
It's as best conditioned a golf course as I've seen anywhere. There's nothing wrong with it. The rough is spotty. It's up in some places, down in others. But when you're in the short grass, it's really good.
Q. Back to the greens, if it allows players to hole more putts if they're better, does it make it harder for anyone to get some separation?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't know. I think it's always hard in these U.S. Opens to get separations anyways, just because of how difficult it is. And to string four good rounds together, a few players have done that over the history of the U.S. Open. Tiger has, obviously, at Pebble. And he's separated himself from the field quite a bit there.
But I just think it's so difficult that you're going to have a stretch of holes where you're going to hit it poorly maybe or maybe not even hit it that poorly and maybe it just goes in the rough into a bad lie or whatever. But it's difficult still. But I think the scoring is, could potentially, depending upon how they set it up, could be better than maybe '98. Not by much. It's still very difficult. It's still long. They have lengthened some of the holes compared to '98. But once you get on the greens, I think it's going to be easier for guys to putt than 14 years ago.
Q. What do you think of the 18th hole in general and about the green that's changed a bunch over the years?
STEVE STRICKER: That was, obviously, a hole that was under a lot of criticism when we were here in '98. And I thought that they have done a great job redoing that. It still has some of the ‑‑ well, it has a lot of the toughness in there from back to front where it's sloped pretty severe from back to front, but nothing like the old green.
It's still a very difficult hole. If you don't get it in the fairway off the tee, you're struggling to make a four. Just because the green's very narrow, playing uphill out of the rough is difficult, and the green is just not very big. But it's not as tough up on the green as it was. It's just not as severe, but in a good way, don't get me wrong. It's such a positive change since 14 years ago. They did a great job with it. But kept the integrity of the hole in place.
Q. What do you think about No. 7, the short par‑4 and do you expect most players to try to drive that?
STEVE STRICKER: That's a good question. I don't think I'm going to try to drive it. But I'm not a very long hitter now days. But I think some guys are going to give it a rip. Get it up there, depending upon the pin location.
But you've got to be prepared to accept the consequences if you're going to go for it. So it's still position golf out here and it doesn't matter if the hole's whatever that is, 350 or.
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, 288 to the front. And it plays a little bit uphill. Whether it's that hole or it's No. 16 that's at 670, you still have to hit it in the fairway and give yourself a good look at it. To just to make sure you walk off with a par because we all know that pars are good scores.
Q. Ken Venturi was out here with us a couple of months ago and said he thought if the pins were back that players would try to go for it, because you don't want to be in that front bunker and have a long bunker shot. It depended on the pin placement. Do you agree with that at all?
STEVE STRICKER: It definitely depends on the pin placement and, yeah, I think that even if it's up front though guys are going to get that urge to go for it and maybe put it in a bunker right up front close to the green where they can get it up‑and‑down. In the back, it's a tough shot even when you lay up. And you better make sure you're going to be laying up in the fairway. Because if you miss that fairway or any ‑‑ if you miss any fairway out here you're struggling.
But, yeah, I would agree with him. That when that pin's in the back, guys maybe more often or are more leaning towards laying it up.
Q. Having gotten here I haven't been out there yet, is it true that Lee's tree on five is gone? Did you look for it when you were out there?
STEVE STRICKER: I couldn't tell you, there were some trees over there on the right, I don't know which one. It's gone though? You're shaking your head?
Q. That was what I heard.
STEVE STRICKER: I heard they cut a lot of trees down here. But I couldn't tell you which one was Lee's tree. But there still are a few over there on the right.
Q. Could you go over one more time where were you exactly when his ball dropped out at that moment?
STEVE STRICKER: We were right down there by the tree, I don't know in the fairway or in the rough area, I can't even remember if I saw it, you know, come out of the tree, but I heard somebody yell, hey, it fell down. And sure enough we went over there, we were all mingling around that area on the right and Lee, I remember, was almost back to the tee or on his way back. Maybe about halfway back. So we yelled at him and got him to come back and I just remember ‑‑ I don't even know what he did with his second shot. I remember him chipping in for par. I couldn't tell you what he did with his second shot. If he hit it from there, I don't know, if he laid it up, I think he just hacked it out maybe into the fairway and then hit his next shot over the green if I remember right and then got up‑and‑down. But we were all mingling around there and I don't remember if I saw it or if somebody saw it or what when it came out of the tree.
Q. You mentioned wanting to get off to a fast start and I've got a couple things about the golf course. When you are teeing off on No. 1 you've got that stretch of basically the first six holes, I guess 7 could be hard and almost every hole, but a lot of people talk about the first six. How important is it to just try and hang on in the first six and then kind of see what happens?
STEVE STRICKER: I haven't thought about it as the first six. I heard that saying or people saying that a few times. But to me they're all that difficult. No. 1 is really no different than No. 12. They're long, they're hard. No. 2, you know what I'm saying, you can go on and on and they're all hard. If even the short ones, if you don't get it in play off the tee you're going to make them difficult. Number 8, that was, I remember a 7 or an 8‑iron shot back when we played in '98. Well, I hit 4‑iron to the front yesterday. So you could throw the first six, number 8, No. 9, No. 12, you can throw them all in there if you want. They're all hard.
But when I say get off to a fast start, I'm not saying like the first six holes get off to a fast start I'm just saying the first round or two have a good solid start to the tournament. But I've heard that first six come up a few times. But I kind of chuckle because they're all pretty good.
Q. What about the psychology of the two par 5s then you've got to wait all the way until 16 to ‑‑
STEVE STRICKER: Is that a par‑5? (Laughter.)
Q. Par six?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, it's a par six.
Q. But you're going to have to go a long way before you get to a par‑5 and then you have two in a row.
STEVE STRICKER: Well, guys are going to see that as an opportunity late in the round. Even 18, that's potentially going to be a good birdie hole, I think, if you get it in the fairway. If the pin's up front it's going to be pretty difficult, I think, to get it close. But if the pin's middle to back, you're going to, if you drive it in the fairway at 18, you're going to have a good opportunity to try to make a three.
So really that stretch, 16, 17, 18, we could see some exciting stuff, I think, especially coming down the stretch. Word is too they're going to maybe move up 16 for us a little bit. So I think it's going to add a lot of excitement, to tell you the truth.
Q. Last thing, are you a favorite or are you an underdog this week because you probably might wear either mantle given the kind of game that you can bring to the table and yet people talk to you about Tiger or Rory or Phil or some other guys. Which would you rather be, given the history of this tournament, where the "underdog" has done pretty well?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, no, I think that I'm an underdog for sure. That's what I'm telling myself anyways. And I feel like the way I played the last few tournaments, I'm not carrying a ton of confidence in here, but I've been playing well in spurts. I played well the last couple of days here. I feel good coming here. I worked pretty hard on my game at home the last week. So I would like to think that I can get off and have a good tournament here.
But, yeah, there's so many good players and we got to be looking at Tiger or Phil or Rory, Lee Westwood won last week, guys, younger guys, I think, that hit it further and, but I'm not discrediting myself at all. I feel like I can hold my own and I've played well in prior U.S. Opens. So I feel like if I play my game and I'm capable at what I'm doing, I can get myself in there.
Q. The USGA likes to do fun things with tee times and having Tiger and Phil together is great for the fans. For them is that a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't know. You would have to ask them. As a fan, as a golf fan, I love it. I don't know how ‑‑ I'm sure they don't want to concentrate on one another. They're going to have to try to focus on what they're doing and on their own games and worry about what they're doing and not really focus on what anybody else is doing. And they're such good players and been around playing competitively for so long that's what they're going to do.
But as a fan I think it's great. Great for TV, great for exposure and there's going to be a lot of attention on that group come Thursday.
Q. Two questions, do you find it funny as a player that Tiger has gone, wins, and he's the favorite; goes into a little patch, is gone, wins and is a favorite again in a Major? Does that amuse you at all or can you see that?
STEVE STRICKER: No, I can see that. We just don't ‑‑ I guess lately we don't know what to expect from him, I think. And when he wins, we're all eager to look ahead and think that he's going to be back to where he was in the early 2000s or whenever he was at the top of his game.
No, I think that just shows you the ability that he has and what people see in the type of player that he is and the type of shots that he's been able to hit over the years and the uncanny ability to just get it done and win golf tournaments. So when he does win one, I think that's why we're all quick to hop on his bandwagon and say he's back and he's ready to go and which is good for the sport. It's good for us and it's good for whatever tournament he's playing in. It brings a lot of attention to our game.
Q. Are you a bandwagon jumper?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I'm a bandwagon jumper.
Q. In '98 there was a big debate or starting to be a debate about drivers and spring‑like affect and that, I don't know if you remember this or not but I'm curious when you played here in '98 can you tell us what your bag looked like?
STEVE STRICKER: I can't remember. You know, to tell you the truth I think I hit a lot of 3‑woods here. I don't think it played ‑‑
Q. What kind of 3‑wood?
STEVE STRICKER: Good question. '98? I think it was ‑‑ not sure. TaylorMade, maybe.
Q. Irons? Were they the Peerless then?
STEVE STRICKER: I can't even tell you. But I think I remember hitting a lot of 3‑woods. The course was firm. It was, some of the holes you were just trying to get it in the fairway and make sure that you could advance it up to the green.
But this year some of the holes have been lengthened, course has been lengthened, so I think you're going to see a few more drivers than you did back in '98, I think. But yet some of the bigger hitters are going to be forced to bring out some shorter stuff to keep it in play.
BETH MAJOR: Steve, thank you so much for joining us, it's always a pleasure, we wish you well this week.
STEVE STRICKER: Thank you.