Rickie Fowler may be the tournament leader, but Steve Stricker is the undisputed king of Erin Hills.
Apologies for conjuring up the name of the worst show in television history, especially since Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless are inexplicably broadcasting from Erin Hills this week, but Stricker’s supremacy is in little doubt.
Stricker is from Edgerton, Wisconsin. The U.S. Open is in Wisconsin for the first time. These are a pair of facts golf fans have been bludgeoned with in recent weeks.
But putting aside the narrative for a moment, this isn’t merely the media grabbing at a tasty story. Wisconsinites at the U.S. Open are greeting Stricker like a conquering hero…oh, and his wife, Nicki, is carrying his bag, which only endears Strick (and Nicki) further to the faithful.
He was greeted by five-deep galleries as he teed off Thursday, and a wave of fan enthusiasm followed him around the links-style layout.
Stricker, without a major, made the cut in Wisconsin to the delight of the gathered masses. He almost didn’t have a chance to compete, denied a special exemption, Stricker was forced to head to qualifying. And fortunately, he was able to qualify handily, winning the sectional event at Germantown Country Club.
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“You just watch the galleries clear out as soon as he walks off,” said one fan, per a Golf.com report. “A lot of people are watching him, and it’s an honor to watch him.”
Indeed. And no doubt Stricker was enjoying the fan response.
“Great receptions almost every green I walked up on,” said Stricker, after his opening-round 73. “Every tee, in between the greens and the tees, I got a lot of support out there today. And it was a lot of fun. Definitely keeps you motivated to play well, you know, with a lot of people cheering you on. I saw a lot of familiar faces and friends.”
It has to be a heckuva an experience for the 50-year-old. While he’s not likely to hoist the U.S. Open trophy, to have his wife on the bag, play well enough to make the cut and be treated to such a reception is remember-it-for-the-rest-of-your-life stuff.
And, while Stricker is too nice of a guy to say it, there has to be a measure of satisfaction in sticking it to the USGA who denied his exemption. The suggestion of that denial was that he’s not significant or skilled enough of a golfer to merit such consideration. Fortunately, he’s proving both those perspectives wrong this week.