ATLANTA (AP) - Steve Stricker ran into PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem outside the East Lake clubhouse Tuesday morning and already was worried about having to give a speech that night to receive the Payne Stewart Award.
“Can we just do a Q & A?” Stricker said. “I don’t know if I can make it through without crying.”
He couldn’t even make it through a news conference without shedding a few tears.
Stricker laughs at himself for crying after just about every win, though his emotions were heartfelt when he was announced as the winner. The award was created after Stewart, a three-time major champion, perished in a freak plane crash over South Dakota in 1999 during the week of the Tour Championship.
The award is presented to a player who shows respect for the traditions of the game, is geared toward charity and presents himself in a professional manner through dress and conduct. Stricker did not spend a lot of time with Stewart, though he felt a connection because both of them returned from tough times.
“I was able to see firsthand how the guy struggled, and how he rededicated and refocused and got all his priorities right, how a guy like that was able to come back and how to do it,” Stricker said. “I actually thought about him quite a bit when I went through my own struggles. So it’s ironic in some ways that I was able to see that in Payne in `94, but then apply it to myself during my struggles in the mid-2000s.”
Stricker lost his card, then worked his way back by hitting balls from a three-sided trailer onto a snow-covered practice range in Wisconsin. He came from so far back that he made PGA Tour history as the only player to be voted comeback player of the year _ two seasons in a row. Nine of his 12 career wins came in the past six years.
As for holding his emotions in check? No chance.
He thanked Finchem and the Southern Company, which sponsors the award, and his voice first cracked two words into his opening remarks at a news conference.
“It’s very humbling and an honor that I never thought would be possible,” he said. “I’m very fortunate, very blessed to be a part of this. I’m really blown away that I’m ever here, so I appreciate it, and I’m not really looking forward to tonight because I have to get up there and give a talk, and I’m struggling already.”
“I don’t know why I have these emotions, but it means a lot,” he said. “It really does.”
EARNING A CARD: The road to a PGA Tour card will go through Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio _ and a fourth tournament still to be determined.