NORTON – A water skiing accident. That’s how Steve Stricker tore his right hamstring. He could’ve been playing at the British Open that weekend, but, no, he skipped the links and went to a Wisconsin lake with family, celebrating a 20th wedding anniversary with his wife, Nicki.
That injury, which he suffered last month, is still bugging him a bit. Not too much, but a bit, he acknowledged after his 5-under-par 66 first round Friday at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. But it is kind of funny, that injury.
“It was the golf gods looking down on me and saying, ‘You idiot, you should’ve been at British,’ ” Stricker said with a laugh as the shadows grew long in the early evening.
Not long ago, Stricker, who is one of 16 players tied for seventh entering Saturday, might have ventured across the Atlantic and played that Open. His colleagues wouldn’t have sneered. This is the career they chose. It requires sacrifices, etc.
But now, he’s a semiretired 46-year-old who’s focusing more on family than career.
After all, just notice the order of titles in his Twitter biography:
Husband, Father and PGA TOUR Player.
Stricker has reduced his workload by playing a lighter schedule — just 10 tour events heading into the Deutsche Bank Championship.
A decrease in quantity hasn’t meant a drop off in quality, though. He has five top-10 finishes and has twice finished in second place. He’s earned nearly $2.5 million, a nice bounty no doubt.
Perhaps he’s fresher heading into tournaments after taking an extended breather, thus leading to some of his low rounds. But no, Stricker said, dousing that theory. Actually, he said, it’s a tad harder at the start of events because he’s shaking the rust off and testing his game out again.
“I don’t know what to expect [when I come back],” Stricker said. “I don’t know how my game is going to hold up. So far, so good.”
Good indeed. The key to his late-career resurgence is nothing complex, he said, nor do such performances after weeks away make him anything special, he added.
“There were some great players before me that played very little and played very well,” said Stricker, who is ranked 20th in FedEx Cup standings.
“I’ve just found a nice balance,” he said, “and I feel good about what I’m doing.”
That balance is between his personal and professional lives, one he found as his career reached the back nine, with a spot on the 50-and-older Champions Tour probably around the corner.
“My kids are at that age where I want to be home,” he said, referencing his two daughters. “They’re into activities and things I want to be there for.
“I’ve had a great run out here — not that it’s going to stop. I just want to curtail it a little bit and play a little bit less.”
But this approach, if anything, has taken pressure off Stricker.
“I feel more comfortable with what I’m doing, relaxed with what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s showing in my game.”
He opened the round with a birdie, suffered a double-bogey five holes later, then had five birdies to close out his round. He did three-putt No. 2, and failed to convert a birdie on No. 4, so, he said, “I kind of felt like I was giving some shots away.”
But he couldn’t complain about the round, especially after coming in following weeks off.
During that break, he enjoyed more family time, including spending a few days with one of his daughters, a tennis player, at the US Open in New York.
“She’s always wanted to go and we’ve always left her at home,” Stricker said. “This time, it was her turn. She enjoyed it. She had a great time.”
Few recognized Stricker at the event, where he wore a US Open hat and shelled out good money for seats near the court for one of Serena Williams’s early matches.
“Just to see her was pretty cool,” Stricker said. “She hits it so hard.”
He said he’ll miss the Tour Championship in September. After that, he’s not sure.
All that seems certain now is his perspective on golf, on life.Baxter Holmes can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BaxterHolmes