Ryder Cup delay alters Captain Stricker’s plans
Steve Stricker has to wait a year to get into the fray as U.S. Ryder Cup captain, but when he does arrive at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisc., next September he’ll have six wild card picks at his disposal instead of four. What the Wisconsin native won’t have to wait for is his 22nd PGA Championship. That starts Thursday at TPC Harding Park.
“It's a work in progress, but excited to be here,” Stricker said Wednesday. “For some reason, I lost a little bit of my game during the quarantine, even though I played a lot of golf with my family and Nicki and the kids.”
What he hasn’t lost is his enthusiasm for this tournament.
“The PGA Championship has always been a great event and one that I look forward to every year and one of the fairest setups that we play in the majors,” he said. “This is a great venue right here. It's tough. The rough is up. The fairways are narrow. The weather is tough. So we have all the conditions for a tough tournament, so you're going to have to be on your game to play well here.”
The global pandemic pushed the Ryder Cup from this year to next and the interrupted PGA Tour season caused some tweaks to the points qualifying system for the Americans, who will try to win back the Cup claimed by Europe in Paris in 2018.
All points earned by U.S. players since qualifications began in 2019 will continue to be recognized. But the selection criteria for the Americans will now extend through the second 2021 FedEx Cup Playoff event – the BMW Championship.
Under the revision, six players instead of eight will qualify for the U.S. team based on points and six players instead of four will be captain’s picks made after the 2021 Tour Championship.
“Obviously we all wish that we could be playing this September, but for the health and well-being of everybody, and I know it's the right call,” Stricker said.
“The people of Wisconsin are so supportive, knowing that we'll be playing next September,” he said. “There's been a lot of positive feedback that I've received from the people at home that it's the right call; it's the right thing to do.”
As for having six captain’s picks, Stricker thinks it makes sense from every perspective.
“We just thought that it was in the best interests of the team … to give us that flexibility to get the pairings that we feel are best, to get the guys … that are playing well, maybe guys that suit that course better than some other guys,” he said.
Another impact of the delay of the Ryder Cup is a change in Stricker’s plans for next year. The three-time U.S. Ryder Cup team member and runner-up at the 1998 PGA Championship has 12 wins on the PGA Tour and five more on the PGA Tour Champions, where he was looking to play more.
“I'll be out here again I'm sure a little bit more than what I had planned next year,” Stricker said. “Then as far as the Champions Tour, I'll sprinkle a few of those in. I'll be bouncing back and forth. My plan was to play The Ryder Cup this September and then play mainly Champions events next year, but that's changed.”
A lot changed in 2020 but this hasn’t: The Ryder Cup will always be intense, no matter when it’s played. And Steve Stricker will be more than ready to go home and captain the U.S. team, no matter how long he has to wait.