Steve Stricker could have blended in with the spectators Wednesday at Erin Hills -- if there had been any.
The course was closed to the public, and only a handful of players capitalized on the gorgeous weather. Patrick Reed played a full practice round, reporting a score of 70 from the tips.
The tips measured 8,155 yards, give or take a few football fields.
Stricker will get plenty of questions next week about whether a senior (at least by the PGA Tour Champions definition) who drives it 280 has a chance to compete in a U.S. Open with all of those freaky-long hitters.
Wednesday was a day to celebrate his accomplishment -- shooting 65-67 on Monday in Memphis to qualify -- and to bemoan his condiment choice at the halfway house: a hot dog with onions ... and ketchup.
"All good," Stricker said.
He was dressed better than his dog, wearing just what you would hope to see from Mr. Wisconsin: a red golf shirt with a white "W." It was untucked over tan shorts, and Stricker's face had some uncharacteristic scruff.
Golf stars ... they're just like us!
OK, so Stricker looked like a fan. But make no mistake: He's here to play.
A native of Edgerton, Wis., and resident of Madison, Stricker petitioned for a special exemption, figuring that perhaps the USGA wanted Wisconsin's first U.S. Open to include the state's all-time winningest golfer. (Stricker has 12 PGA Tour titles; Andy North has three, but two were U.S. Opens.)
Stricker even penned the "Last Word" for the U.S. Open program, closing with an anecdote in which his local bank teller asks, "Hey, are you going to be playing in the U.S Open?"
"That's the plan," Stricker replied.
The University of Illinois alumnus ensured a spot by earning medalist honors in a 108-player sectional qualifier, saying, "It's kind of a relief knowing I got in on my own terms."
The quintessential PGA Tour Good Guy (he once finished first in a ranking by Golf Digest) received all sorts of props after his performance.
"It was bigger than winning a tournament," he said. "The outpouring of support, it was unbelievable. I sent a tweet out to thank everybody -- and I've gotten way more responses to that."
A sample response: "You are going to have the biggest following in @usopengolf history next week. Hell of a story already. Make it the best ever with a win."
Stricker retweeted a fan who wrote, "Congrats now bring home the cheddar"
USGA executive director Mike Davis took the unusual step of releasing a statement: "Having Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker qualify for this year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills is really special. He will bring an enormous amount of energy to the U.S. Open's first trip to Wisconsin and will no doubt be a fan favorite. Steve demonstrated his golf skills and competitive spirit in qualifying at Memphis. We congratulate his great play!"
Had Stricker not qualified, the USGA would have gotten ripped for not doling out an exemption ... in some circles. Fans and media are suckers for sentiment. Most players favor a meritocracy: If you can't earn your way in, you don't deserve to go.
Stricker is here and has the slight advantage of having seen Erin Hills evolve. He played the course 10 days before its Aug. 1, 2006, opening at the invitation of then-owner Bob Lang. After the round he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Some holes just have that U.S. Open look. It's like nothing I've seen in our state."
On Wednesday, Stricker paused between nines to express his joy in playing a course in superb shape.
"It's probably the best-conditioned course we will see in the U.S. Open -- ever," he said. "There are no divots, no ball marks on the greens. It's in phenomenal shape.
"Bottom line, it's nice to be here."
This article is written by Teddy Greenstein from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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