'Nice guy' Steve Stricker expected to bring fire as 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 20: Steve Stricker speaks with the media as he is named United States Ryder Cup Captain for 2020 during a press conference at the Fiserv Forum on February 20, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Stacy Revere/Getty Images

'Nice guy' Steve Stricker expected to bring fire as 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain

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'Nice guy' Steve Stricker expected to bring fire as 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain

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MEXICO CITY – Soft-spoken Steve Stricker has long been considered one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. A devoted family man and humble to his core, he has adhered to the example his parents set as he grew to learn the importance of the Midwestern values he holds dear.

“He gets along with everybody,” said Jimmy Johnson, who caddied for Stricker from 2008-2015 and now is in the employ of Justin Thomas. “He doesn’t think he’s better than anybody else.”

On the surface, Stricker could be mistaken as being a softy, a man without a temper and one who is reluctant to put up a fight. That would be a mistake.

“Well, everyone knows he’s such a nice guy, but beneath all of that exterior is this fieriness and this competitiveness,” Tiger Woods said Wednesday at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.

In other words, Stricker is as tough as he is nice, a nice combo that U.S. players can lean on in the 2020 Ryder Cup. On Wednesday Stricker, 51, was officially named the U.S. captain for Ryder Cup matches to be played in his home state of Wisconsin at Whistling Straits.

The announcement was expected – and deserved, players said. Stricker, who won 12 times on the PGA Tour and has three victories on the Champions Tour, has been a vice captain the last three editions of the Ryder Cup. He also captained the U.S. to victory in the 2017 Presidents Cup and played in three Ryder Cups.

“I’m an emotional guy. I’m truly humbled,” Stricker said. “I’m very passionate about this competition. We want to win this more than ever.”

It won’t be easy. Europe has won four of the last five matches, including last year’s 17½-10½ rout in Paris.

After the U.S. loss in 2014, Stricker was named to the Ryder Cup Task Force, formed to bring continuity and communication among captains, assistants and players. On Wednesday, Stricker announced as his first vice captain Jim Furyk, who was captain of the 2018 Ryder Cup team.

The Task Force became a Ryder Cup committee, and Woods, who is among three players on the committee, said Stricker was a unanimous choice.

“What he has done as the leader both in the Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups has been tremendous, and we just thought that with his leadership and the way the guys follow Stricks, we thought that he would be the best captain there is for 2020,” Woods said. “He’s also one of the more detail-oriented guys that we know of. I think that he’ll be prepared, he’ll be understanding and he’s very good at communicating with the players and getting their opinions but also putting his foot down when he has to. That’s an important job.”

Rickie Fowler, who played in the last three Ryder Cups and also in 2010, said Stricker was “the right pick.”

“He’s a smart guy. He knows what he’s doing,” Fowler said. “He’s very sincere. He’s also a very emotional guy. He wears his heart on his sleeve. You know exactly how he is feeling. But he controls his emotions very well, and you have to do that to be a captain. He’ll stick to the game plan, but he knows there will be times he’ll have to go with his gut.”

Johnson said Stricker is also a grinder, a man who never quits. His resilience paid off during two protracted slumps, the second of which had him thinking about getting another job. But Stricker didn’t quit, and he was named the PGA Tour’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007.

“He’s a competitor, so he won’t be afraid to step up and say what he thinks,” Johnson said.

Brooks Koepka, the reigning U.S. Open and PGA Championship champion who has played in the last two Ryder Cups, was all smiles when Stricker was named captain.

“Strick is awesome,” Koepka said. “He’s very emotional. I think most people know that. But he’s very involved. He’s followed me in a lot my matches over the last two, three years. And he’s high energy. He’s always there cheering you on. He’s one of the biggest cheerleaders. I’m excited to play for him.”

 

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