The world's No. 1 golfer can't walk anywhere on the planet without getting recognized and photographed. The No. 2 golfer can't go anywhere without being recognized, even if he has to tip you off to who he is. But the world's No. 3? Shoot, he could be sitting right next to you right now and you wouldn't even notice. (Assuming you're out in public and not reading this in your bedroom or bathroom. You'd probably notice him then.)
Steve Stricker, the two-time Comeback Player of the Year, lurks in golf's rarefied air, and his game is good enough that he absolutely belongs there. But he's an interesting study in the way that golf values story over skill. While Phil Mickelson's groove drama and John Daly's will-he-won't-he nonsense dominate headlines, Stricker is quietly dominating.
The L.A. Times profiles Stricker, and leads with this ironic image:
On a little porch overlooking the practice green, No. 2 Phil Mickelson, fresh off his one-over-par 72, stood and signed autographs for an adoring horde. Caps, T-shirts, slips of paper were thrust forth and Mickelson, as is his nature, signed all.
Ten feet away, on the putting green, No. 3 Steve Stricker, having carded a four-under 67 and positioned himself only three shots off the lead, talked quietly with a reporter, uninterrupted and mostly unnoticed.
It's not that Stricker lacks charisma, he just lacks a hook. He's got a vanilla name, a straightforward look, a lack of compelling backstory (raised by wolves, learned to play golf with his grandfather's thigh-bone, whatever), a lack of anything that makes the golf media salivate and the fans pay attention.
So here it is, golf fans. Many of you have screamed that you want to see focus on somebody, anybody but Tiger. You say you want to see golfers with talent rather than golfers with "storylines." So Stricker's your man. There's nobody playing now -- heck, maybe nobody playing ever -- with a higher ratio of talent to backstory. So pull for Stricker this weekend -- going into Friday, he's three strokes off the lead -- and strike a blow for real golf!