(Reuters) - Like a connoisseur of fine wines, Steve Stricker prefers quality to quantity and his decision earlier this year to cut back on his PGA Tour schedule seems to have been a master-stroke by the veteran American.
He has recorded four top-10s in only seven starts on the U.S. circuit and is among the pre-tournament favorites for this week’s John Deere Classic at the TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois, where he is a three-times former champion.
”I don’t know if my game has improved, my attitude is fresher,“ Stricker, 46, told reporters on Wednesday about the success of his part-time strategy on the 2013 PGA Tour. ”I am excited to be at each and every event that I tee it up in.
”I still work at my game at home, just not as much. There are times now when I am home for two or three weeks I can set the clubs down for a week or two and then pick them up the week prior to get ready to come to an event.
“I am enjoying the down-time at home where I don’t feel like I have to practice every minute. And that’s been fun,” said the American, who will miss next week’s British Open to be at home in Wisconsin with his wife Nicki for their wedding anniversary.
A 12-times winner on the PGA Tour, Stricker said he had cut back on his playing schedule because of his desire to spend more quality time with his family while also retaining his love for competitive golf.
“This is my 20th year on tour and I want to make sure that I am fresh when I come out,” said the softly-spoken Wisconsin native, who has long been regarded as one of the best putters in the game.
”I don’t want to get to the point where I dread coming out. I am too old for that. I’ve seen guys through their career just feel like they have to come out and play for some reason and I don’t want to be that guy.
“I want to be a guy who comes out and be excited to play, want to be there and put all my effort into playing well that week that I am there.”
So far, so good for Stricker who has finished second twice this season, at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and the elite WGC-Cadillac Championship among a string of good performances.
In his most recent start, at last month’s U.S. Open, he put himself in good position to clinch a first major title before fading in the final round on the way to a tie for eighth.
“Just getting it right in my mind at the start of the year that this is what I wanted to do was a big step in my own mind, knowing that I am doing the right thing,” Stricker said of his curtailed PGA Tour campaign.
“And I feel good about what I am doing. That helps me play the way I have been playing too, I think.”
Since his top-10 at the U.S. Open, Stricker has taken three weeks off but will launch his bid for a fourth victory at the John Deere Classic, in one of his favorite events, when he tees off in Thursday’s opening round.
“It’s always nice to be back and kind of re-hash some of the memories that I have had here, especially over the last four years,” said the American, champion at the TPC Deere Run for three years in a row from 2009.
”I get excited to practice and get ready for this event. It’s a fun tournament. It’s kind of the way the tour used to be, in a smaller market ... where the town, the city, the volunteers really rally behind it to have an event.
“This is one of the more fun events I come to every year. I always look forward to coming here.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Ian Ransom