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'I'm lucky': Steve Stricker out of competition for months as he recovers from heart inflammation

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Ryder Cup Golf

Team USA captain Steve Stricker smiles during a four-ball match the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits Golf Course Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Sheboygan, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker is recovering from a health scare that featured a soaring white blood cell count and inflammation around his heart, which hospitalized him for two weeks and caused him to lose 25 pounds.

“I’m lucky,” Stricker told Wisconsin.Golf in a lengthy interview. “I’m feeling like things are going in the right direction. I’ve just got to give it time.”

Stricker said his heart was jumping in and out of rhythm from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. He said the inflammation is starting to abate and he’s able to start moving around. The Wisconsin native was cleared to take his family to Florida for the winter at the start of the week.

Even so, he said his cardiologist told him it could be six months before he competes again.

It was a rough conclusion to what otherwise was the best memory of his career. In a Ryder Cup delayed one year by the pandemic, Stricker led a U.S. team to the biggest rout over Europe 19-9 at Whistling Straits.

Stricker said for him it was like winning a major. A month later came a major scare.

It started with a sore throat and a cough. Stricker said a COVID-19 test came back negative and a few weeks later he felt well enough to go deer hunting.

“I came home from hunting one night and I was like, ‘I don’t feel good. My side hurts. I just don’t feel right,’” he said. “That night I had the sweats and all of a sudden, my temperature was 103.”

He went back to his doctor for a strong antibiotic and thinks he had a reaction, for his throat began to close and his lips, glands and tongue began to swell.

He was hospitalized about two weeks before Thanksgiving, and that’s when his health took a nasty turn.

“My liver numbers started getting worse. My white blood cell count was jacked up really high. I was fighting something, but they couldn’t find out what it was,” he said.

He said he had jaundice and his urine was the color of cola. Four days into his hospital stay, his heart started fluttering. Stricker said at one point his heart rate was 160 beats per minute for two hours.

He was released the day before Thanksgiving, and then readmitted three days later feeling worse that before.

“A couple of times I was like, ‘What is going on?’” Stricker said. “Everything is going the wrong way. It wasn’t fun. You don’t know what’s happening. You don’t know where this road is leading to. I never thought that I’m not getting out of there kind of thing. But I didn’t eat for two weeks. I didn’t have any energy or appetite to eat. I had a hard time just getting up and walking because of the heart. I took a few steps to the bathroom in my room and I’d be out of breath.

“I was pretty sick, from what they tell me.”

Stricker said blood tests indicate the inflammation around his heart is coming down. He is able to walk short distances, but still not eating solid food.

“I’m down 25 pounds. I’m freshman-in-high school weight. I lost all my muscle,” he said. “I look like an 85-year-old man, dude. My skin is hanging.”

Stricker can only wonder how much the Ryder Cup took out of him. He devoted nearly three years to the job because of the one-year delay brought on by the pandemic. He had the pressure and distraction of delivering for a Wisconsin crowd. It was a smashing success.

“I kind of have a feeling that could have had a part in it,” he said. “It’s a letdown, right, after that happens? And then your immune system is probably down. It probably played a role in it somehow.”

Another War by the Shore? Everything you need to know about the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits

Europe has beaten the U.S. in nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups, but a talented American team captained by Madison's Steve Stricker is looking to reverse that tide this weekend at Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan.

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The Americans have 11 of the top 16 players in the world and COVID-19 travel restrictions make the crowd at Whistling Straits even more one-sided than Lambeau Field.

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The Americans bring the type of credentials that make them favorites in just about every Ryder Cup, and this year is no different. It just rarely translates into winning the Ryder Cup, and only Europe seems to have the answer.

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Brooks Koepka is teammates for the week with Bryson DeChambeau and 10 other guys, charged with regaining the Ryder Cup on home soil. But his feud with the long hitter isn’t over by any stretch.

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“We are worried about this one, and just trying to win this one,” Steve Stricker said when asked about Europe's dominance of the Ryder Cup.

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“We have the best players this year,” said Paul Azinger, the lead analyst for NBC Sports who still uses pronouns as if it were 2008 when he was the U.S. captain. “And obviously, they (Europe) roll in with the most confidence and maybe the best team.”

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In the post-Brexit world, seven of Europe’s 12 players aren’t technically from countries in the European Union anymore.

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The captains are required to put one name in an envelope on Saturday evening. That player would sit out and be given a half-point if someone on the other team can't play because of injury.

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As if there wasn’t enough suspense and second-guessing of the Ryder Cup captains in past years, a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic could make things more topsy-turvy than usual this time around.

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“Amazing that this golf course is man-made,” European vice captain Graeme McDowell marveled, “because it just looks like it’s been there since the beginning of time.”

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Tiger Woods won’t be at Whistling Straits this week, for obvious reasons. Phil Mickelson will, but for the first time since 1995, he won’t hit a shot in the Ryder Cup.

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Friction within the team the Ryder Cup might be new for the Americans, but it hasn’t kept the Europeans from winning with regularity.

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“I think this is a team event. I'm focused on helping Team USA to a victory, and that's honestly the reason why I'm here,” Bryson DeChambeau said.

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At the Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter becomes an eye-bulging, fist-pumping burst of adrenaline who can put up ‘W’s while also getting under almost anyone's skin, whether it be Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson or even Michael Jordan.

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Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas almost surely will be paired together in both foursomes and fourballs beginning Friday, and what they deliver will go a long way toward deciding if Team USA can win the Ryder Cup.

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Sergio Garcia is one of only four players to compete in Ryder Cups across four decades, and he has won 25 1/2 points, the most in Ryder Cup history and as many points as the 2021 U.S. team combined.

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Lee Elder earned one of the nine automatic qualifying spots for Team Europe and will tie Nick Faldo's European record by making his 11th appearance this week.

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“There's been captains who did a good job and it doesn't equate to a win,” Steve Stricker said before laughing and adding, “It can be a thankless job.”

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Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples join Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Davis Love III as assistant captains to Madison's Steve Stricker for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on Sept. 24-26.

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Facts and figures for the 43rd Ryder Cup matches Friday-Sunday at Pete Dye's Whistling Straits, which emulates a cliffside links course with two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, bluffs, sand dunes and natural fescue lining the fairways.

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A hole-by-hole look at the Straits course at Whistling Straits, site of the 43rd Ryder Cup matches Friday-Sunday.

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A capsule look at the European team for the 43rd Ryder Cup matches Friday-Sunday at Whistling Straits.

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A capsule look at the American team for the 43rd Ryder Cup matches Friday-Sunday at Whistling Straits.

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