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Steve Stricker is showing it’s never too late to play your best golf

AKRON, Ohio — Steve Stricker has had the type of golfing performance arc that so many hope they can replicate. It’s the idea that their best golf is still ahead of them, regardless of age.

Stricker is one of the shining examples.

After decades in the game, Stricker didn’t really reach his prime on the PGA Tour until he was in his 40s. And now, at age 56, he’s setting the PGA Tour Champions ablaze.

This season, Stricker has four wins and five runner-up finishes in his first 12 starts, which includes two wins in the first three majors entering the 2023 Kaulig Companies Championship at Firestone Country Club, which is the fourth.

Nobody over 50 on tour is playing better golf than Stricker. After years and years of not quite reaching the potential he thought was there, his 40s and 50s have been a much different — and better — story.

And he’s a perfect case study that with golf, the breakthrough could always be on the horizon.

From 2003-05, Stricker said his game was “not in a good spot.” He was 38 and struggling to catch any momentum. So, he went to work to alter his swing from anything he’d done in the past. He shortened his swing. He found a club position at the top of his swing that allowed everything else to click.

From there, his career took off. And for the last decade and a half, Stricker has enjoyed a newfound level of success on the course.

“I’ve really stuck with those same principles, those same things that I worked on 17 years ago, 18 years ago,” Stricker said. “I still do the same things today. I think that’s why the consistency has happened through these last 18 years or so, because I still do the same things that I worked on back then.”

With that came a level of confidence that hadn’t been in place before 2005. Stricker noted the turnaround was surely part physical, part mental. The ability to close out tournaments is a skill he learned along the way. It’s also something he’s much better at now than when he was in his 20s and 30s.

“I think just getting more mature, getting into that position more and more, having that ability to close out,” Stricker said. “You can look back at that and take that as a positive, and have the confidence that you have done it before and you’re capable of doing it [again].”

“So, I think I’m getting in contention a lot more out here, which on the regular Tour I didn’t get in contention like I am here. So, you’re just put in this situation a lot more and you find out what works, what doesn’t work.”

The missed chances stuck with him, especially a few majors in which Stricker was in contention but couldn’t close on Sunday. It’s a skill he had to learn the hard way.

“I was in contention over at a British Open, I played with Sergio [Garcia] coming down the stretch there, but I was right up there,” Stricker said. “I shot 64, it was at Carnoustie on Saturday, I got myself right in there. Then hit it in there a few times on the first few holes on Sunday, but didn’t make the putts. I was definitely rattled, outside of my comfort zone, for sure.”

It took Stricker time to find it. Certainly more than he would have liked. But he’s playing his most competitive golf into his mid-50s. And he has shown that it’s never too late.

Stricker holds share of first-round lead

Stricker also finds himself in a favorable position to win his third major of the year.

He fired a 5-under 65 in Thursday’s opening round. That was only matched by Harrison Frazar.

Stewart Cink is one back at 4 under. Also of note, Ernie Els is tied for seventh at 2 under, and John Daly came in at even-par by carding a 70.

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