ATLANTA – Steve Stricker is one of the nice guys on the PGA Tour. That was never in question. But was Stricker a guy who should have been the recipient of the Payne Stewart Award?
The first 11 honorees had some connection to charitable contributions or efforts they made outside of golf to help others. Stricker – a quiet guy – isn’t known for his direct connections to any charity or causes outside of golf.
So when Stricker sat at the head table, with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem ticking off the accomplishments of the 12-time winner, the reason still didn’t resonate as to why Stricker was getting the award.
But that all changed when you listened to an emotional Stricker, maybe one of the only winners of the award to choke up just talking about the honor.
“It’s very humbling and an honor that I never thought would be possible,” Stricker said of the award. “I’m very fortunate, very blessed to be a part of this.”
Of all the players who have won the award, Stricker’s career comes closest to Stewart’s in many ways. Stewart won 11 times, including three majors, before dying in a 1999 plane accident at age 42. Stricker has one more victory but no major championships.
Both are Midwesterners, and both had lulls in their careers that they overcame and eventually thrived.
“I think he was struggling as we all do as players,” Stricker said of when he played with Stewart in his rookie year in 1994. “You struggle with being out here, being on the road, with your game, being away from your family, and I think he had a pretty poor year.”
Stricker had a similar experience after winning the WGC-Accenture Match play in 2001, with his game going in the wrong direction from 2003 to ’05 and losing his card and struggling when he did get a start.
In 2006, Stricker made it back to 34th on the money list and now is one of only two players never to have missed a playoff event since the FedEx Cup started in 2007.
“I was able to see that firsthand how the guy struggled, and how he rededicated and refocused and got all his priorities right, it seemed like – how a guy like that was able to come back and how to do it,” Stricker said. “I actually thought about him quite a bit when I went through my own struggles.”
Over the last four years, Stricker won nine times and has been one of the bright lights on the PGA Tour, on and off the course.
It’s shortsighted to think the Payne Stewart Award is for one specific act or actions. In Stricker’s case, the award recognizes a record of integrity, professionalism and what Finchem called a stellar career.
In reality, Stricker is getting the award because he epitomizes what golf is all about.
“I don’t know why I have these emotions, but it means a lot,” Stricker said. “It really does. I’m just very thankful and honored to be here.”