After mystery ailment, Steve Stricker’s miraculous recovery continues with latest victory
Perhaps the best way to understand how right things have gone for Steve Stricker in 2022 is to understand how wrong they were just a few months earlier.
After notching his fourth win of the PGA Tour Champions season at this weekend’s Constellation Furyk and Friends — a victory that places him third in the Champions Tour standings — Stricker had a moment to reflect on the path that led him here. A path that, as fate would have it, nearly ended his career.
It was late 2021 when whispers about Stricker’s health first crept into the golf world. The PGA Tour mainstay had just finished a wildly successful Ryder Cup captaincy at his hometown Whistling Straits, resulting in the most dominant U.S. performance in the cup in several decades. As the fall bled into winter, word emerged that Stricker was in the hospital with a mysterious ailment, where he would remain for several weeks.
Later, Stricker revealed that he had been hospitalized with a high fever, and further testing revealed a skyrocketing white blood cell count and plummeting liver function. Eventually, doctors were able to win back control of Stricker’s fever, but other symptoms remained. Stricker’s heart was inflamed, and he often felt as if it was racing — a condition the doctors attributed to an irregular heartbeat called an “atrial flutter.”
He spent weeks in the hospital before his condition stabilized enough to go home. He’d lost 25 pounds in the hospital and was uncertain whether his golf game would ever recover.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Stricker recalled Sunday. “I didn’t know where I was going to be, I didn’t know where my game was going to be. When I was starting to come back and hitting it super short and my body felt awful, I was just hoping to play really more than anything.”
Stricker and his wife and caddie, Nicki, began the process of resurrecting his golf game, and slowly the pair saw improvements.
“Nicki’s thing was let’s just take it in two-week increments,” Stricker remembers. “That kind of proved to be the savior because we just could see improvement every couple weeks whether I felt better, starting to put on weight, putting on muscle, all that kind of stuff.”
Eventually, his ball speed returned and his game came back with it. Stricker returned to competitive golf in May at the Insperity Invitational, finishing T2 in his first start of the season. Then, a few weeks later, he broke through for an emotional first victory at the Regions Tradition. After that came wins at the Ally Challenge and Sanford Invitational before this weekend’s latest triumph in Jacksonville.
With this weekend’s win, Stricker has now moved into third place on the Champions Tour’s Charles Schwab Cup race. This, of course, comes despite missing the first three months of the Champions Tour season.
But the success has been twofold for the Strickers, who found a new bond during last fall’s unexpected bout of family time. Most of the Stricker family travels with Steve to each event, and the whole gang was on-site to watch Steve serve as an assistant captain during the Presidents Cup.
“They would have to answer that, they’re the ones who went through those couple months when I wasn’t feeling well, but after that, when I got back out of the hospital, spent more time at home, we do a lot of together as a family,” he said. “We play a lot of golf together as a family, we root each other on in our golf games and we help support each other. We’ll all be in watching Izzi the next couple of days. Bobbi was here watching me these last couple of days. I’ll be caddying for her at Tour School. It’s a family thing, We enjoy being with each other and we enjoy rooting each other on.”
Up next, Stricker says, is more family time. He has traditionally taken much of the month of October off to be back home in Wisconsin. Soon, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship — the PGA Tour Champions’ version of the Tour Championship — will beckon. But until then, Stricker is more than content to enjoy the ride. These days, he knows exactly how precious that is.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming out this season at all, so it’s been a lot of fun really,” Stricker said. “I mean, gave me a different perspective last fall. I’ve said that on a number of occasions and it’s true. I’m blessed to be out here to play and to do the thing I love to do.”