ORLANDO – When Steve Stricker received an invitation to participate in the PNC Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, it was an unexpected and heartening surprise for the seasoned golfer. Traditionally, the prestigious two-person scramble competition requires participants to have clinched victory in one of the four major championships or the Players Championship. As Stricker had not secured such triumphs, the prospect of playing in the PNC Championship seemed remote.
“So we never thought, at least I didn’t, we’d have the opportunity to play here. So it’s actually a blessing and a surprise that we’re here,” Stricker expressed.
The unique turn of events leading to Stricker’s inclusion in the tournament is a fascinating tale. In golf, where adherence to rules is paramount, exceptions sometimes become the norm. Tournament founder Alastair Johnston, recognizing instances of compassionate exceptions in the past, decided to open the field to senior major champions starting this year.
“I’m not denying it, I did it. As I told a couple of players who will remain nameless, I’m in charge so eat it!” Johnston boldly stated.
This decision breaks away from convention, allowing golfers like Stricker, with victories in senior majors, to join the esteemed competition. Stricker revealed that PGA Tour Champions rules official Joe Terry had initiated discussions a few years ago about potential rule amendments to include him in the event.
“Joe T. mentioned that they were trying to maybe change the rules, get us in — I don’t even know what the rules are, who gets invited, right? That’s kind of a mystery to me,” Stricker shared. “So Joe T. put it in my ear a couple years ago, and he asked if we would play. I’m like, ‘Well, yeah, most definitely we’ll play if we have the opportunity.’
Despite initial uncertainty, Stricker’s patience was rewarded when an invitation from Johnston arrived through his agent/brother-in-law Mario Tiziani about a month ago. The invitation specified that Stricker had the unique privilege of pairing up with his daughter Izzi, a talented young golfer, for the 36-hole two-person scramble competition.
Izzi Stricker, a 17-year-old senior in high school, has showcased her golf prowess by claiming the Wisconsin Girls State Championship for two consecutive years. Committed to the University of Wisconsin’s women’s golf team for the 2024-25 season, she stands as a promising talent in her own right. The Stricker family’s golf legacy extends beyond Steve and Izzi, with mom Nikki also having played for Wisconsin. Notably, the girls have yet to outshine their father, who recently secured the Charles Schwab Cup on the Champions Tour.
“I start to grind if it gets close,” Steve shared. “Then I start talking to them and getting in their ear and trying to throw them off a little bit if that’s going to happen.”