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Wisconsin’s own Steve Stricker has fun while qualifying

Steve Stricker catches a ball during a practice

Steve Stricker catches a ball during a practice round prior to the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills on June 12, 2017. Credit: Getty Images / Ross Kinnaird

ERIN, Wis. — Steve Stricker, a proud son of Wisconsin, dearly wanted to play in the first U.S. Open in his home state. So dearly, that he applied to the U.S. Golf Association for an exemption, which was denied. He does not blame officials for turning him down and, in fact, is happy that they did.

Stricker is one of the most polite and affable people in golf and he made sure he complimented USGA Executive Director Mike Davis and staff for having been so apologetic in turning him down. Stricker understands that free passes into the field are rare and usually reserved for icons. In any event, the event led to one of the greatest achievements of his career. He entered a sectional qualifier in Memphis and demolished the field, playing his way into the Open.

“The way it worked out, I feel much better the way I got here,” he said. “That was pretty sweet, because I earned my way in. I feel like I belong here.

“It brings me back to the days when I didn’t have a PGA Tour card,” said the 50-year-old winner of 12 PGA Tour events. “So, yeah, it brings back a lot of memories. I actually took it as a fun opportunity.”

Birthday excuse

Unlike most of the top players, who generally meet with the media on Tuesday of tournament week, defending champion Dustin Johnson will hold his news conference Wednesday. He had the same schedule last year, and it worked. This time, it is more a practical matter. Published reports said that his fiancee Paulina Gretzky gave birth to the couple’s second child, a son, on Monday . . . U.S. Ryder Cup captain and major champion Davis Love III is here, not as a player but as a caddie for his son Davis IV . . . Cavaliers fan Jason Day, whose wife Ellie once was run over by LeBron James while sitting at courtside, on the NBA Finals: “Having Kevin Durant definitely helps.”

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