It’s hardly surprising that Steve Stricker has decided to trim his schedule dramatically. What is surprising, if understandable, is that more successful players don’t do the same. Instead, most keep going. Golf is a lifetime sport, and many eligible tour professionals choose to compete into their 60s via the Champions Tour.
Stricker said at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii this week that he plans to play 10-12 tournaments this year rather than the 19 he played last year. He said he’d tried to trim his schedule before, but that he didn’t manage to do that. He’ll be 46 in a couple of months, and he wants to spend more time with his wife Nicki and their 14-year-old daughter Bobbi Maria. He’s also starting a foundation for kids called Driven for a Dream, along with American Family Insurance, a company based in his hometown of Madison, Wisc.
It will be interesting to see whether Stricker, one of the game’s more reflective players, follows through on his intentions. He said he might even take a pass on the British Open at the Muirfield Golf Club in Gullane, Scotland come July. It’s not that he doesn’t like tournament golf anymore or that he doesn’t see himself as a competitor. He simply wants to throttle back. We’ll see how far back he can pull the throttle, how far he’ll retreat.
Stricker has had a successful career. He’s won 12 PGA Tour events. The only thing missing on his impressive resume is a major championship. So be it. He also happens to be one of the most decent guys on the PGA Tour, a player who feels a responsibility to do the right thing.
Here’s an example of what I mean. I was watching Stricker during a practice round for the 2007 Presidents Cup at the Royal Montreal Golf Club. As I ambled along outside the ropes, he happened to notice me. He then invited me inside the ropes to walk and talk with him. Similar things happen from time to time with other players, but it’s not common. Stricker is uncommonly decent.
If he does retreat from a full schedule, you have to think he could cut back even more down the road. It’s the rare player who does walk away from the game entirely, that’s for sure.
Bobby Jones did that when he was only 28 years old. Jones won the then Grand Slam in 1930, taking the British and U.S. Opens and Amateurs. He continued to play the Masters through 1948, but he did so only because he was a co-founder of the tournament and the Augusta National Golf Club with Clifford Roberts. Jones was not a serious competitor.
Byron Nelson also left the game when he was very young. He won five majors before retiring to the ranch he loved when he was only 35 years old. Nelson always said he would retire to his ranch when he felt ready and financially able to do so. That time came when he was a young man when it comes to golf, and he did what he said he would do.
Jack Nicklaus, meanwhile, played pretty much a full schedule through 1980, the year he turned 40 and the year he won his 16th and 17th major championships. He played sporadically after that, and, of course, won his 18th and final major championship when he took the 1986 Masters. He was 46 then.
Nicklaus said he never wanted to become a “ceremonial” golfer, and hinted frequently that he would stop competing entirely. But he was constitutionally unable to tee it up in a tournament without feeling he had a chance to win. Nicklaus won eight Champions Tour majors, the last in 1996 when he was 56. He was 58 when he made a run at the 1998 Masters, eventually tying for sixth. He played majors on the Champions Tour through 2003, and effectively closed out his career when he elected at 65 to play the 2005 Masters and Open Championships.
It’s rarely easy for a tour player to leave the scene. Every golfer knows the feeling of thinking there’s still good golf left, even winning golf. Stricker isn’t retiring, and he still believes he can win while being semi-active. We’ll see if he can play well while playing less more often. Wish him well. He’s earned the right to play whatever schedule he wants, even a much reduced one.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein