Nice guys sometimes do finish first

Watching 44-year-old Steve Stricker win the Memorial a week ago was worth watching, not only for the entertainment value that virtually all PGA events provide (and Jack Nicklaus’ commentary didn’t hurt), but also because we were witnessing one of the game’s true “good guys” succeed. Far be it from me to say, but seeing Stricker shake Nicklaus’s hand after finishing up on 18 brought a real case of the warm fuzzies.

Contrast that scene in Ohio with the over-the-top exceedingly contrived circus that is the NBA Finals, and you’ve come to realize that “bad boys” aren’t always the ones who deserve accolades and attention. The Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh probably wouldn’t qualify as “bad boys” in the sense that they’ve frequented police blotters or are known for gross transgressions to traditional American culture, but there’s an element that sees big-time basketball as just an extension of the American pop scene — and that’s just not found in golf. The loud music, the even louder public address systems (and announcers), the tattoos, the in-your-face advertising – it’s just gotten too much.

For a guy who grew up watching the great Lakers/Celtics duels in the 80’s, today’s NBA just ain’t the same.

Switching back to the gentle Steve Stricker, here’s a guy who sank to the depths of his professional sport just a few years ago — and now he’s on top of the American contingent in the world rankings (having reached the lofty #4 slot after his win on Sunday). Maybe it’s because we all identify with what it’s like to truly struggle with something, but I doubt there were many golf fans who were rooting against Stricker on Sunday – and it’s not because he’s dramatic or overpowering, like so many of golf’s other leading personalities.

People like Stricker because he’s boring.

Perhaps boring is the wrong word – he’s pleasantly unruffled (how’s that for an exercise in vocabulary?). Stricker doesn’t get real high when he succeeds (as his three eagles within the span of a few holes the other day would indicate) or too low when he’s in trouble. He’s got a demeanor that all of us wish we could emulate on the golf course, and in life.

CBS’s announcers went out of their way to highlight the fact that Stricker is seen as the all-around “good guy” on Tour, and even Nicklaus emphasized how “nice” Stricker has come across as a member of the Presidents Cup teams that the legend has captained.

What, no fist pumps, massive galleries, personal scandals or other colorful adjectives to describe Stricker? Maybe the most ‘striking’ thing about Stricker was the way the TV screen distorted his striped shirt – almost made it sparkle.

It’s a tribute to the game that a good, wholesome family man who still lives in a cold climate (to be near family) can still climb to the top that is truly remarkable about Steve Stricker. He’s the guy who lives next door, the guy who’s waiting to join your group on the first tee and the guy behind the counter at the local club, all in one.

And it’s almost like the fact that he doesn’t get noticed is the most distinguishing thing about him. He’s professional, he’s steady, and he’s a good guy.  In my book, that makes him fun to watch, and notable.

One thing’s for sure: golf could use a lot more Steve Strickers.


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