The last time Steve Stricker played at the Chubb Classic, he walked off Tiburon Gulf Club’s Black Course as a champion, winning the 2021 event by one stroke.
The 55-year-old missed out on the opportunity to defend his crown at last year’s tournament after a mysterious illness that caused inflammation around his heart caused him to step away from the game for six months and limited him to just a dozen PGA Tour Champions events.
However, Stricker won four of them, including a senior major. The former Naples resident and Quail West Golf & Country Club member started off the 2023 season just as strongly, winning the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai in Hawaii by six strokes, which included carding a 12-under course record 60 on the second day.
The ageless Bernhard Langer’s pursuit of Hale Irwin’s record 45 Champions Tour wins grabbed most of the headlines entering the Chubb Classic, where he’s a four-time champion, most in the event’s history. However, Stricker’s win in Hawaii was his fourth in his past five Champions events (and third in a row) dating to last season, an impressive streak in itself and a strong signal he’s back at full strength after his health concerns.
“Brings a smile to my face knowing that I played well out here the last five events or so,” Stricker said Thursday following his pro-am round at Tiburon. “I’m just trying to keep that rolling and keep that going and try to get in contention and win again, and that’s kind of my goal each and every time I come out here to tee it up.”
Stricker, who lived part-time in Naples until 2021, said he always enjoys returning to Southwest Florida, where he’s had plenty of success at both the Chubb and as a two-time winner at the QBE Shootout. It also gives him the opportunity to reconnect with friends and scores of familiar faces.
This year’s Chubb Classic is also a family affair for Stricker with his wife (and caddie) Nicki and daughters Bobbi and Izzi in attendance. Stricker’s brother-in-law Mario Tiziani, who caddied for him in his win at Hualalai when Nicki didn’t make the trip, will be competing at the Chubb after earning his way at Tuesday’s qualifier at Forest Country Club in Fort Myers.
“Actually, Izzi, our youngest one, is caddying for Mario this week, so, yeah, a lot of family on the bags this week, so it’s fun being with everybody,” Stricker said. “I’m excited about the course and being here. It’s in great shape again.”
Stricker, who’ll celebrate his 56th birthday next week, is planning to play a full Champions schedule for the first time since making his debut on the senior circuit in 2017. Heading into the Chubb Classic, he’s won exactly won out of every four Champions tournaments he’s entered, with 12 victories in just 48 career starts.
Even if Stricker can’t make it four wins in his last four Champions starts at the Chubb Classic, he said he’s thankful every time he gets to compete.
“I don’t know if I’m going to win again, or be able to play,” he said. “Look what happened to me a year ago. Who knows? So you have to try to enjoy the time out here, and still enjoy the journey and the process of trying to play well.”