MILWAUKEE — Steve Stricker vowed he wasn’t going to cry. And he made good on that vow … right up until he started talking.
Stricker, the Edgerton native and Madison resident, was officially introduced Wednesday as the captain of the U.S. team for the 2020 Ryder Cup to be played at Whistling Straits.
Still, the significance of it all hit Stricker when his selection was made official at a news conference at Fiserv Forum. True to form, his voice cracked and he had to wipe away a tear or two as he began to talk.
“I’m an emotional guy,” Stricker said. “It’s truly, truly a dream come true. I’m honored to represent the PGA in this competition. I’m truly humbled by this opportunity.
“I’m very passionate about this competition. Some people see this and they don’t think I’m very passionate or fiery about playing the game of golf and what I do for a living. But deep down I’m very competitive. We want to win this more than ever and I’m here to help in any way I can. I’m very blessed.”
That the biennial event will be played in Wisconsin for the first time makes it all the more special to him.
“It means a lot,” Stricker said. “I love playing here, I love coming into my home state and playing in front of family and friends and all the fans. I’ve received so much support from people here over the years. It’s really cool to get that response and play in front of them and now I’ll get to captain this team in my home state. Can’t script it any better.”
The 2020 Ryder Cup will be the seventh consecutive one that Stricker will be involved in, having played in three and served as a vice captain in the past three. He’s been part of two victorious teams, first as a rookie in 2008 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville and then as an assistant captain under Davis Love III in 2016 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.
Those are the only two U.S. victories in the past nine Ryder Cups, as Europe has dominated the competition, including a lopsided win last year in France.
Stricker understands that his job is to reverse that trend, but he doesn’t have any easy explanations for the U.S. team’s struggles.
“That’s something we’re always asking ourselves, because we don’t lack the passion or the intensity or the players,” he said. “We have some of the best players in the world, and so do they.
“They have just come up with some key putts. In Paris, I truly believe in that home-field advantage. The course was tailor-made for their players. And we just didn’t play well.
“It stung last year after winning at Hazeltine, so the guys are fired up. They are ready already to try to get it back.”
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Stricker believes Whistling Straits will provide a good challenge for both teams and will prove to be a worthy site for the event.
“I think it’s a great course for this competition,” he said. “It provides great scenery, first of all. You feel like you’re not even in Wisconsin when you’re out there at Whistling Straits. It looks like an ocean out there, not one of the Great Lakes. But truly a magnificent-looking course.
“It’s a Pete Dye course, so it’s challenging to the eye. There’s holes that are real legitimate birdie holes, and then there are some holes that you’ve really got to suck it up and pars are going to be good. So I think that’s going to lend itself to a good match-play course.”
Stricker said he’d look at ways to set the course up in ways that might suit the U.S. team, but added that the biggest advantage likely will come from the home fans.
“Wisconsin is a tremendous sports state,” he said. “They back their teams with passion. I expect nothing different for the Ryder Cup. I’ve been at the PGAs the two times they were held at Whistling Straits and they came out in full force. They support their own.”
Stricker, 52, will be the 29th U.S. Ryder Cup captain and the first one not to have a major championship on his resume. Irishman Padraig Harrington will captain the European team.
Suzy Whaley, PGA of America president, said that Stricker’s record as a player with 12 PGA Tour victories, his Ryder Cup experience and his success as captain of the 2017 Presidents Cup team, which posted a 19-11 victory, carried a lot of weight with the six-member Ryder Cup Committee, which included players Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods.
“I have no doubt about his competitive nature,” Whaley said. “Anybody that was on a winning Ryder Cup in 2008 has grit. He’s shown it, his body of work envelops it. The players respect it. This was a unanimous choice by the Ryder Cup Committee and it was an easy choice.”
Stricker was informed of his selection by Whaley in December and had to keep it secret for more than two months.
“I’m hoping that’s why I haven’t been making some putts lately, because I’ve had this on my mind,” he said. “I’m glad it’s done and off my chest now.
“This is the highlight of my career, probably. But you know what, that Am Fam Championship event that we put on in Madison, being able to raise a couple million dollars for our foundation and be able to give that away is pretty special too.
“But being a captain of a U.S. team here in Wisconsin, my backyard, is really special and probably at the top of the list.”