Stricker feels like the big cheese

Los Angeles Times - - GOLF: U.S. OPEN - By John Cherwa and Teddy Green­stein john.cherwa@la­times.com Twit­ter: @jcherwa

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.

Top am­a­teur

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.”

Med­i­cal up­dates

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.

Gregory Shamus Getty Im­ages

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.

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