Going into Sunday’s final round of the 40th U.S. Senior Open Championship at Notre Dame’s Warren Course, anyone other than Steve Stricker must have felt like one of those early season Fighting Irish football opponents. Yes, they were going to get a nice experience playing in the shadow of the Golden Dome, but their chances of winning were slim.
With a six-stroke lead and his game seemingly on autopilot, Stricker wasn’t about to go down in history as the guy who succumbed to final-round, major-championship pressure.
Obliterating the 36- (126) and 54-hole (192) championship scoring records and matching the 18-hole mark with a first-round 62 on Thursday, Stricker finished off his historic week with a championship-tying, six-stroke margin of victory over good friend Jerry Kelly and defending champion David Toms. Gary Player and Fred Funk also won by six in 1987 and 2009, respectively, the latter also in Indiana at Crooked Stick Golf Club (Carmel).
Although his Sunday effort over the 7,004-yard layout was the highest of the week (69), the 52-year-old Madison, Wis., native still set a new 72-hole scoring mark of 261, and his 19-under total was one off the record by Funk.
More importantly, his name will be inscribed on the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy alongside some of the greats in the game, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Billy Casper. The 2020 USA Ryder Cup captain now owns two senior major championships in 2019, having claimed the Regions Tradition in May.
“It was just a dream week,” said Stricker, who came into the championship off a disappointing playoff loss to Kelly in last week’s American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, a PGA Tour Champions event he hosts. “There’s been a lot of years trying to get one of these [USGA trophies]. To get this gold medal and the trophy in a USGA event means a lot.”
Just how machine-like was Stricker?
He played 57 consecutive bogey-free holes – from hole 6 on Thursday to the 10th hole on Sunday – and registered just two for the entire week, which matched the championship record by Craig Stadler (2004).
Stricker’s ball-striking wasn’t as stellar as the first three days – he hit just 9 of 18 greens – but he did what all USGA Open champions need to do when holding a significant margin: make a ton of pars. He birdied the opening hole and chipped in from 46 feet on the par-3 12th. He immediately fist-bumped with his caddie/wife, Nicki, one of the few outward signs of emotion he displayed.
“Nicki and I had been talking that we’ve been looking for a chip-in,” said Stricker, “and I said right before I chipped it, I’m still looking for that chip-in, and she’s like, ‘I am, too.’ So maybe the power of us both thinking about it, it came true.”
When the championship was sealed on 18, Stricker celebrated with Nicki and his two daughters, Bobbi and Izzy. After 21 U.S. Open starts, two U.S. Amateurs, one U.S. Junior Amateur and now one U.S. Senior Open, he finally was a USGA champion.
“It was a challenge, especially today when you come out with a six-shot lead, you have everything to lose and nothing to gain,” said Stricker, who got emotional in his post-round interview with Fox’s Joel Klatt. “And I played that way today. I played very cautiously and tried not to make a mistake. This game is hard when you play that way. I really didn’t have the freedom like I had the first three days, and rightfully so. I am trying to win this tournament and I am glad that I did.”
None of his pursuers – most notably Kelly and Toms – could make Stricker sweat enough on a day when temperatures creeped into the mid-80s. Kelly, who shared second last year at The Broadmoor, made consecutive birdies on Nos. 9 and 10, but didn’t make another until the par-5 17th. He settled for a 69. Toms, who shot 68, made back-to-back birdies on 6 and 7, only to give shots back on 9 and 12.
Bob Estes (70) was the only other player to finish double-digits under par at 10-under 270. Kirk Triplett, the runner-up in 2017, finished fifth, shooting a final-round 69 for a 72-hole total of 8-under 272.
What the Champion Receives
Stricker received a gold medal and custody of the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy for one year. He also earns an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club, June 18-21, and exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Senior Opens. The 2020 U.S. Senior Open is scheduled for Newport (R.I.) Country Club, June 25-28.
Steve Stricker is the eighth player to win the U.S. Senior Open in his first attempt, and third wire-to-wire champion with ties, joining Simon Hobday (1994) and Olin Browne (2011). He is the first player to win with four rounds in the 60s since Roger Chapman (2012).
Stricker is the 14th person to win multiple senior majors in the same season.
Tom Watson, the 1982 U.S. Open champion who made it a record 17-for-17 in cuts made in the U.S. Senior Open this week, matched or bettered his age (69) for the third time in four rounds. Watson carded a 2-under 68 for a 72-hole total of 278.
At 250 yards, the fifth hole measured as the longest par 3 in U.S. Senior Open history. The previous long was the 12th hole on the East Course at The Broadmoor, which played 244 yards during Round 1 in 2008.
Scott McCarron, the current leader of the Charles Schwab Cup standings, carded the round of the day, a 6-under 64, moving from a tie for 46th to a tie for sixth.
Qualifiers Doug Garwood and Fran Quinn each posted even-par 70s to earn a share of 14th and a spot in the 2020 U.S. Senior Open. The low 15 and ties are exempt into the next year’s championship.
For the first time since January of this year, the Warren Course did not receive any measurable precipitation for a fourth consecutive day. The course was doused with more than an inch of rain prior to Thursday’s first round.
Tommy Armour III, who started the final round tied for fifth, withdrew after nine holes on Sunday.
“When you see any of your lead start to disappear you start to get a little nervous. And I was there, too, so that chip-in was huge.” – Steve Stricker on his chip-in on No. 12 to push his advantage back to six.
“No more [36-hole] qualifying.” – Stricker on learning he’s exempt into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He had qualified for the championship in 2017 and 2018
“I made a lot of [putts] last week and missed a lot of them this week. I told [Steve] that the rubber match is in Akron [in two weeks at the Senior Players Championship].” – Jerry Kelly
“We would have had a really great tournament this year if it hadn’t bee for Steve (laughing). Obviously, you want to come here and play well defending a title and playing really well the first day (62) just added a little bonus to it. It’s a fun week. The people here were so nice, the volunteers, the fans in general and everything around the campus. My wife and daughter had a wonderful week and I just want to say thank you.” – David Toms
“He was literally hitting it right at every single flag. It was one of the most impressive ball-striking rounds I’ve seen of anybody, and Tom Watson just really impressed me today. It was such a treat to way play with him. It’s an honor.” – Scott McCarron after shooting a 6-under 64 while paired with Hall of Famer Tom Watson
“At this point in my career, I don’t know when I’m going to stop playing. But there will be a time when I stop playing, and I can’t determine that right now.” – Watson on if he’ll play in the 2020 U.S. Senior Open
“First top 10 ever on the Champions Tour for me, so a long time coming. I know it’s been in there. I’ve been telling people it’s been getting close, and putter worked really well this week. I drove it good this week. My iron play was good. Everything kind of clicked this week.” – Chris DiMarco (5-under 275)
“It’s not the kind of course where they’re going to get the greens really fast because there’s a lot of movement in them, but the golf course is firming up. I think they’ve had ark-building type rain here the last two months. The ball is bouncing today, and that makes it more difficult for sure.” – Paul Goydos (5-under 275)