Stricker feels like the big cheese
ERIN, Wis. — Mr. Wisconsin made the cut on the number. But years from now, that’s not what Steve Stricker will remember from playing the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where officials used him as an unofficial advisor in its early years.
The Madison-area native will recall the standing ovation he received from spectators at the course’s largest grandstand, along the 18th green.
“The amount of support, it’s been unreal,” he said.
Stricker, who turned 50 in February, laid up to 101 yards with his second shot and fired at the pin at No. 18, his ninth hole of the day. The shot settled 11 inches from the cup, and the crowd went wild.
Stricker, who sits at one over par after shooting 73-72, said the challenge of playing in his home state is to not try too hard.
“When I first played in the GMO [Greater Milwaukee Open], that was the hardest thing,” he said. “You just felt like you’re letting everybody down when you’re not playing well. But I’ve gotten better with that. I’ve been easier on myself when I come to play in our state, and just try to enjoy it a little more.”
A slam in play?
There has been little talk about a Sergio Garcia grand slam after he won the Masters earlier this year.
He has shot a respectable 70-71 to stand at three under entering the weekend. At the U.S. Open, that gives you a chance. On Friday, playing in the morning, he had three birdies and two bogeys.
“To be three under par with a chance on the weekend, I’m proud of that,” Garcia said. “I’ve got to hopefully keep the confidence going, keep the momentum and see if we can have a good weekend and have a chance on Sunday.”
Garcia, who won his first major title at Augusta, is hoping the Erin Hills course resembles more of a traditional difficult U.S. Open course for the weekend.
“I’ve always liked when a course plays tougher,” Garcia said. “I think I have a little bit of an advantage, but at the same time you have to be more on when it gets like that, because if not, you’re going to struggle.”
Lots of support
At five under par is 23year-old Xander Schauffele, who for a few holes was tied for first. Schauffele, a San Diego native who attended Long Beach State and San Diego State, started the day with four pars before birdieing the fifth, putting him atop the leaderboard.
But a bogey on the parthree ninth dropped him back. He got a shot back with a birdie on 12 but then double-bogeyed the 13th and he finished with a one-over 73.
Schauffele’s improbable time at the top has brought has brought “just boatloads of support,” he said. He even got an unexpected text from a former teacher.
“Yeah, Mr. Finley, my science teacher from, I think, sixth or seventh grade,” Schauffele said.
Amateur Cameron Champ is turning some heads after shooting a 69 to go with Thursday’s 70, to put him at five under. Champ, who turned 22 on Thursday, qualified by winning a playoff at the qualifier in Newport Beach.
Now he’s on the leaderboard at the U.S. Open.
The Sacramento native had five birdies and two bogeys Friday. But what gets people’s attention is his length off the tee. He is first in average driving distance at 339.2 yards after both rounds.
“In college [at Texas A&M], I normally am the longest,” Champ said. “I don’t talk about it much. You’ve still got to make a score. Here if you can hit it long and straight, it’s a great advantage. I took advantage of it the last few days.”
The gravity of his performance hasn’t gotten to him yet, but he’s thinking about it.
“I came in this week with no expectations really at all,” Champ said. “The only expectation I had was to be low am. … Obviously, it’s going to be in my head. This is all new for me, just trying to do the best I can.”
The U.S. Golf Assn. announced that a 94-year-old man died at the course Friday. The initial cause of death was natural causes.
The pilot of a blimp that crashed Thursday just east of the golf course reportedly remains in serious condition. Trevor Thompson was operating an advertising blimp that deflated, burst into flames and crashed.
WISCONSIN NATIVE Steve Stricker signs autographs during a practice round this week at Erin Hills. Stricker, who made the cut on the number at one over par, says he doesn’t worry as much anymore about letting the fans down with his play in his home state.