Steve Stricker: From caddie to contender at The Galleri Classic
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Steve Stricker: From caddie to contender at The Galleri Classic

A photo of golfer Steve Stricker

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Many, if not most of the marque lineup across PGA Tour Champions are used to surpassing individual expectations.
Meeting expectations en mass for an entire event, however, is a different animal.

Unofficially replacing the LPGA’s since-departed Chevron Championship, which spent the past 51 years at Mission Hills Country Club, the Champs set sail on Friday for the opening round of the Galleri Classic.

And expectations weren’t merely met – but indeed surpassed.

Sporting galleries which undoubtedly usurped those of the LPGA’s now-departed/ dwindled Thursday/Friday product in recent years, the Galleri unveil marked not only a Champions Tour return to the SoCal desert for the first time in three decades, but a confirmation of a demographic sweet spot for the 50-plusers.

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Though the Dinah Shore Tournament Course evidenced early teeth, a transition from cool morning to idyllic afternoon gave way to scoring which belied local expectations.

Just three weeks removed from his victory at the Cologaurd Classic in Tucson, David Toms took aim at another desert track on Friday, firing a stellar 65 which featured five birdies on the latter nine. One shot behind Toms’ leading 65, Kevin Sutherland authored a bogey-free 66, while six players – Rocco Mediate, Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh among them – stand two back heading into Saturday’s second round.

As a sample point of compare/contrast with over five decades of ladies’ major championship golf at the Dinah, no winner ever reached 20-under across four days of play, and last year’s champion in the event’s final desert playing, Jennifer Kupcho, went 66-70-64-74.

While the LPGA’s best gained continued familiarity with the nuanced grounds, few of the Champions had much, if any familiarity with the Dinah’s terra firma.

Of those on the field’s short list with some degree of course knowledge, however, Steve Stricker’s is surely the most unique.
In both 2021 and 2022, Sticker caddied for his daughter, Bobbi Stricker, in Stage I of LPGA Q-School at the Dinah; for the latter showing, the progeny shot 69 en route to advancing to Stage II.

Stricker’s tally on Friday at the Galleri? A 3-under 69.

“I tied her; I wanted to beat her,” Stricker smiled after the opening round. “There’s no question I wanted to beat her.”

With Bobbi and a host of Strickers in his Galleri gallery, Stricker, the event betting favorite, tried to put his looper work to task on Friday.

“I learned a lot (from those caddie rounds), but didn’t put it to good use today, really,” he said, referencing three consecutive bogeys on his opening nine. “When I caddied for her, I was all in on trying to help her where to hit it, where not to hit it. I knew where to be (today) on a lot of the green complexes, but, I got off to a rough start today, so that (course knowledge) really didn’t help me too much.”

While his ever-stellar flatstick appeared sound, the winner of a dozen career PGA Tour events and 12 more Champions’ tournaments (including the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in January) placed some blame on his driver game.

“There’s some spots out here where you really do have to drive it in the proper place,” continued Stricker. “I missed some fairways today, and then you’re off in the rough and end up playing defense. To score on this course, you’ve gotta’ be in the fairway to attack some of these pins.”

A rally on the latter side, featuring a turkey on Nos. 14-16, put Stricker back in contention heading to the island green, par-5 home hole.

“It kinda’ stings not to get one (a birdie) on 18; I could’ve gone for it,” Stricker, the season’s Charles Schwab Cup money leader, said of his par close. “I had a number for a 3-wood, but the wind was really gusty on the last hole. And that can be the challenge around here, part of trickery around here because the wind conditions can change really fast.”

Of those dealing well with such trickery, Fred Couples and reigning Champions’ Player of the Year Steven Alker both shot solid 68s in the debut round, while Stricker’s brother-in-law (and agent) Mario Tiziani matched his B.I.L. at 3-under.

Turning the page from one tour to another began a new chapter of pro golf in this SoCal hotbed, and, as hoped, the new show proved to be a hot read.

“It’s the right demographic for us; and some guys have been playing here for a lot of years, coming for the (PGA Tour’s) American Express,” concluded Stricker. “People have watched a lot of these players growing up through the game, and now we’re back again as Champions Tour players. It’s a unique situation, and I think that’s why we saw so many people out here today.”

As for what are anticipated to be even bigger galleries on Saturday, the second-ever round of the Galleri Classic gets underway at 9:15 Pacific, with the leaders set to tee-off at 11:21.

About the author

Judd Spicer

Judd Spicer

Judd Spicer is an award-winning writer, co-host of The Press Box radio show on ESPN 103.9 FM-Palm Springs and contributing columnist to The Desert Sun newspaper. A Minnesota native, he relocated to the Palm Springs area in 2011 to pursue his Champions Tour dream. Sporting suspect accuracy off the tee, he refers to his 56-degree as his Magic Wand. Visit or @JuddSpicer for more.