Steve Stricker starts long goodbye (semi-retirement)
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Stricker announces plan to downsize schedule

While playing golf for millions around the world may seem like the most incredible job imaginable — and it is in many ways — there actually are downsides. Mostly, it’s a lifestyle, where you live out of a suitcase at a Marriott (and eat more fast food and room service than you’d like to admit) for 20-35 weeks a year.

Life on the road can be extremely lonely, not to mention the game, by nature, is a selfish sport.

For the past few years, Steve Stricker, who turns 46 in February, mulled over the idea of cutting back his schedule. But it’s not easy for golfers to walk away from the game. He is still a competitor, and resurrected his career in 2007, after a drought 5-6- year drought.

Stricker, the defending champion of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, won nine of his 12 PGA Tour victories since turning 40. He was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world, and starting in 2007 he’s been a member of every Presidents and Ryder Cup team. He’s 12th in all-time PGA Tour career earnings, raking in more than $35 million.

When it comes to awards and accolades, there’s only one thing missing from Stricker’s illustrious career: a major championship.

Perhaps striving to fill that void is what kept him from committing to semi-retirement earlier.

Unlike the other premier players in world, he doesn’t flee south in the off-season or have a second home in Jupiter. He lives in Wisconsin — not the ideal climate in the winter for golf.

Stricker is amazingly normal and down-to-earth considering his pedigree and success (more people than you’d expect change when money and fame come into the picture).

Finally, last month at the World Challenge hosted by his pal Tiger Woods, Stricker decided to scale down his schedule and go into “semi-retirement.”

“I think it was just going out on the road again, you know? said Stricker on the timing. “I had seven weeks off and then to get out on the road again, I’m like gosh, I’m not ready to be out on the road. I think that had a lot to do with it.”

He still plans to play 10-12 events in 2013 and he won’t miss the big ones — the WGCs and the majors — but he’ll spend most of his time with his family, and he’s also excited about working on a new foundation that he’s forming with American Family Insurance with an aim to help adolescents.

“I’ve been talking to (my wife) Nicki and my kids the last couple of years thinking about trying to cut back, and I thought I was going to do that a couple years ago and I still ended up playing 19 events and doing all the other things,” said Stricker on Thursday afternoon on the eve of the first round of the first tournament in 2013.

“And I’m 46 in another couple months, a month and a half. So it’s time to spend a little bit more time at home I think, do this foundation work, and just come out fresh and ready and prepare when I do play.

“I still think I can play well and to a high level. I just probably won’t be out as much as I have in the past years, but excited about it, too. I’m extremely excited about it. It was kind of a weight lifted off, when I’ve made the decision, and so it’s been good. And this foundation is really an exciting thing for us in the Madison (Wisconsin) area, too.”

There’s no turning back, either.

“This is a commitment for me to do this from here on out,” said Stricker. “You know, I’m not quitting. I don’t want to quit. I still enjoy the game. I still enjoy competing. It’s just time for me to be home a little bit more.”

He has two daughters, who are 6 and 14. His eldest Bobbi Maria also happens to be quite a talented golfer whose getting more into the game. Stricker said he wants to spend more time with her on the course and helping her improve.

“Even I play 19 events or whatever, you’re still putting in another week at home to prepare to go out on the road again,” he said. “And that’s kind of what I want to cut back on is those times at home where I can devote some of my other time to my daughters.

“My oldest has asked to come with me a number of times, and it always seems like it’s not at the right time, because I need to go and practice and try to get ready for a tournament and all that. You know, that’s what I want to change a little bit is spend a little bit more time with her. She’s interested in the game, to get a little bit better, or whatever she wants, and maybe take some of the focus off what I’m doing and put it more on the other three (daughters and wife).”

Stricker contacted his sponsors to make sure his semi-retirement was cool with them. He understood if any of them wanted to walk away. None of them did — a testament to Stricker’s character. (He’s a fantastic role model for the younger pros, junior golfers and just people in general. Few are more genuine and wonderful all-around.)

“When I made the decision, I contacted all my sponsors,” he said. “Because the biggest thing was that I had to be prepared to lose every one of my sponsors, and that’s where I was. I was like, well, if they don’t want to stick with me through this, then I can see why. If I’m not out here playing full-time.

“But I still see a value that I’m going to be playing ten or 12 events, and we added some more service days for these sponsors, so there’s still a value there. Once I got through that with my sponsors and everybody was okay with it, that was the burden lifted off me really. I’m fine with it and my kids and my wife are really looking forward to it, and so am I.

“I plan on trying to play (the ten or 12 events) as quality as I have been over the last six or seven years and trying to play well and win tournaments still. So that’s still my objective is to go out and play well, so that has not changed.”

For the average PGA Tour player, you have to make a minimum of 15 starts. In 2013 it’s reduced to 12 because of the condensed season. However, it’s not really applicable to Stricker because he’s exempt through at least 2017. If he doesn’t meet the required number of events, he’ll just lose his voting rights — i.e. on the Player Advisory Board and Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year ballots, etc.

Sad to hear we’ll be seeing less of Stricker throughout the year, but how can you not respect his decision? Good news is he’ll still be around — at least 10 or 12 times a season.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)