PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – At 6:45 a.m. ET, Steve Stricker’s phone buzzed – he was now the first alternate into The Players Championship.
Stricker had been keeping tabs on the alternate list into the PGA Tour’s marquee event after starting last week as the fifth alternate. One by one the dominos fell in his direction and when he moved to the top of the list he knew it was time to act.
“I knew [Justin Rose] wasn’t doing so well. He hadn’t even hit a ball from what I understand, so they scrambled the pilots together,” Stricker said.
Stricker, 54, flew from Naples, Florida, to St. Augustine on a private flight and landed about 9:35 a.m. With a courtesy car waiting for him, he raced to the COVID-19 testing center and then to TPC Sawgrass, where his stand-in caddie, Eric Larson, who was supposed to caddie for Harris English before he withdrew from the event, brought him food while he awaited his test results.
Shortly afterward, Rose withdrew from the event citing “personal medical reasons” and Stricker teed off at 1:11 p.m. without playing a practice round and with limited preparation. None of that seemed to bother Stricker, who birdied four consecutive holes starting at No. 14 (he began his round on No. 10). He finished with a 2-under 70 and was tied for 12th place when play was halted for the day by darkness.
“There’s always some benefits, at least I look at them as benefits, I didn’t have to put myself through the grind Monday, Tuesday and once, I actually didn’t even play or hit a ball Monday or Tuesday back in Naples,” he said. “I was excited to come here to a place that I have played a bunch before and the hard part was just trying to get the speed of the greens, the chip shots, how they’re going to roll out, all that kind of stuff.”