It might be time to add Intimidated PGA Tour Newcomer to the
endangered species list that already includes persimmon drivers,
rotary phones and, to hear Tommy Tolles tell it, ice in England.
The remarkable success that the whippersnappers have had this
year continued last week when third-year Tour pro Steve Stricker
ran away with the Motorola Western Open at Cog Hill outside
Chicago for his second win in a month and a half. Having already
proved that experience is overrated when it comes to winning
Tour events, Stricker and the rest of the Arnie-come-latelys
will head to next week's British Open at Royal Lytham and St.
Annes looking to disprove another shopworn old saw, the one that
says only grizzled veterans well into their VH1 years can
contend for a major championship.
Most of these young bucks will be playing in their first British
Open. A few will be making their first trip to Europe. None will
be happy just to be there. "Why go just to go?" asks David
Duval, the 24-year-old who is ninth on the money list. "If you
come in half-assed, you're going to play half-assed."
Adds Jim Furyk, 26, who has won a tournament in each of the last
two years, "If I go over and play poorly, I'm not going to come
home with a big smile and say, Boy, what a great experience that
Brashest of all may be Scott McCarron, the second-year pro who
won in New Orleans in March. "One of us should go over and
contend for the championship," he says, "if not all of us."
Figuring out who exactly us is can be a little tricky. For
example, Phil Mickelson, 26, is out; in his fifth year, he's old
news. Woody Austin, 32, is in; after all, he was the Tour's 1995
Rookie of the Year. The sprawling group is intriguing because
the players are so different in style and substance. There is
everything from the unorthodox but brilliant ball striking of
Austin to the old-school finesse of 24-year-old Justin Leonard,
who shapes his shots with a wooden driver; to the pyrotechnics
of Duval, who looks out from behind his futuristic shades at one
of the Tour's most explosive games; to the loco-motion of Furyk,
who has a swing funkier than George Clinton, but gets it done
with grit and a flawless putting stroke.
Physically there is the fleshy rookie Tim Herron, winner of the
Honda Classic in just his eighth career start, with his
well-deserved nickname of Lumpy, and the sophomore Tolles, 14th
on this year's money list, whose angular 6'1" frame looks as if
it were fashioned out of barbed wire. Paul Stankowski and Paul
Goydos, both of whom must play their way into the British Open,
round out the crew, and they would seem to share little but
their first names and the fact that both were living in oblivion
until winning their first tournaments this season.
"It's an impressive group," says Tom Watson, 46, winner of five
British Opens. "You can sense the baton being passed." But, adds
Watson with a knowing smirk, "the British Open will be a new
kind of challenge."
Stricker has to rate as the favorite among these greenhorns.
Over the last three months he has been hotter than Jenny
McCarthy, making eight straight cuts and logging his first
career win, at the Kemper Open. That victory capped three years
of steady progress as Stricker has gone from 50th on the money
list as a rookie to 40th last year to fourth so far this season
with $925,933, including the $360,000 for winning the Western.
If the Kemper established Stricker as a player, the Western
installed him as a contender. For many the Western is the final
Stateside British Open run-up. Most of the Yanks intent on
playing at Royal Lytham will skip this week's Tour event in
Virginia in favor of the Scottish Open, allowing them an extra
week to acclimate. Some of them will then have to go through
British Open qualifying. Though Cog Hill's number 4 course is
hardly linkslike, it is weedy and last week was windy as well,
so it provided a good barometer of whose games are in tune for
the conditions in England. Factor in the record crowds--an
estimated 45,000 squeezed in on Friday--and an excellent field
that featured 19 of the Tour's top 25 money winners, and it's no
wonder Stricker's 65-69-67-69-270 (18 under par and eight
strokes better than the scores of Jay Don Blake and Billy
Andrade, who tied for second) left his competitors raving.
"He's like the Kentucky basketball team," said Lee Janzen after
the third round, when he found himself in second but five
"He could be the next Nick Faldo," said Fred Couples.
Hearing talk like that sets the 29-year-old Stricker aflutter.
"I don't know if I'm ready to be considered a marquee name yet,"
he says. "I mean, I'm still in awe of some of the top players. I
need to keep paying my dues." Such remarks are typical of
Stricker, a down-to-earth, clean-cut kind of guy, the kind who
would marry the coach's daughter. Nicki Stricker's dad, Dennis
Tiziani, the head man at Wisconsin, was that coach. He has
worked with Stricker since the latter was a junior player, and
he tried to recruit him. Stricker said no to Dad, opting for
Illinois, but yes to Nicki when she asked him out to see the
movie La Bamba during the summer of 1987, when Steve was about
to begin his junior year in college and she was a high school
grad. Nicki has been Steve's full-time caddie pretty much ever
since, including four years on the Nike and Canadian tours, and
they were married in 1993.
Nicki was instrumental in the victory at the Western. On Friday,
after double-bogeying the 13th hole to go three over on the day,
Stricker was moping around on the 14th tee when the missus gave
him a bit of a tongue-lashing. With the spice back in their
relationship, the Strickers finished birdie, eagle, birdie,
birdie, birdie. "Nicki kicked me in the butt," says Steve. "What
she said there got me going." He kept up the furious pace on
Saturday with a seven-birdie, two-bogey front nine, which added
up to 15 straight holes without a par. That run pretty much
wrapped up the tournament.
"He's got that explosive thing," says Janzen. "He is always
attacking the golf course because he hits it so long and can
play all the shots. As far as length, he's just one category
below John Daly." The six-foot, 185-pound Stricker does generate
awesome club-head speed with his classic swing, but he learned
earlier in his career than Daly when to say when. Prudence had
Stricker hitting a three-wood off the tee on most of Cog Hill's
par 4s, and it is that maturity as much as his scoring ability
that will make him tough in the British. "This whole game is
about patience, especially over there," says Stricker, who last
year played the Scottish Open but didn't make it through British
Open qualifying. He is exempted into the British this year
because he is among the top 20 on the money list. "For my first
British Open I just want to take it one shot at a time and see
Well then, how about a scouting report from the rest of the
guys, who apparently have been doing their homework. "I hear all
the drinks are warm since ice is an endangered species over
there," says Tolles, who visited many European airports while
playing the South African tour but never left their confines. He
will play in his first British because of his high ranking on
the money list.
"The food is supposed to be pretty nasty," says McCarron, who
will try to punch his ticket to Lytham in the qualifying rounds
before the tournament.
"Bring your turtlenecks," says Herron, who has never been to
Europe and must go through qualifying.
"You have to be ready to hit some crazy shots," says Duval,
who's in because he finished 20th last year in his first British
"You've got to play across cliffs and valleys because wherever
the dirt was is where they threw down the seed," says Tolles.
Despite the reconnaissance, there is no consensus among the
group about who is the biggest threat to steal the Open. Tolles
picks Stricker because he's in a groove. Stricker picks McCarron
because of his strong showing in the Masters and his win in
brutal conditions at the Freeport-McDermott Classic. McCarron
picks Furyk--who also got in due to the amount of money he has
won in the U.S.--because of his putting and tie for fifth at the
U.S. Open. Herron picks Duval because, as he says, Duval is a
threat to win every time he tees it up. And on and on.
About the only things these guys do agree on is that seeing
Stricker's success has given them all another shot of
confidence. "Every time one of us wins, the rest say, 'Heck, if
he can do it, so can I,'" says McCarron. "It pumps you up." The
Masters, McCarron says, "felt just like any other tournament. It
was the same guys we play with every week. The British Open
should be the same way. These are majors, but you just have to
think of them as normal tournaments. Why shouldn't we go over
there and play well?"
Such talk, of course, is a source of some amusement to the
Tour's old-timers. "They should be confident. I would expect
nothing less," says 42-year-old Peter Jacobsen. "But let me say
this: They will be in for some surprises. In my 20 years I have
never had a week at the British Open when something completely
unexpected didn't happen. That's the challenge of going over
there, of fighting the courses and the surroundings."
Stricker listens thoughtfully to such warnings, but he doesn't
seemed moved by them. Speaking for the rest of the young and the
restless, he says, "You can talk about age and experience, but
when it's your time, it's your time."
COLOR PHOTO: JOE PICCIOLO Stricker, who has won twice and keeps moving up the money list, seems poised to take a major step. [Steve Stricker]
COLOR PHOTO: J.D. CUBAN Tolles (right) thinks that the streaking Stricker is a good bet in next week's British, but Stricker gives the nod at Royal Lytham to McCarron (above), who in turn picks Furyk (below). [Tommy Tolles]
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [See caption above--Scott McCarron]
COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN [See caption above--Jim Furyk]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN (2) Herron feels Duval (below) is the man to beat because he's a force every time he tees it up. [Tim Herron; David Duval]