When he looked in the mirror, Steve Stricker realized how close he was to death.
Stricker’s older brother Scott died in 2014 aged 51 after battling Crohn’s disease and undergoing a liver transplant. Stricker, 55, was in the middle of his second hospital stay with a host of serious issues, including jaundice.
That’s why the reflection Stricker saw was so disturbing.
“My brother had gastrointestinal issues and I saw him go through the same thing. I saw him turn yellow, his eyes were yellow and I look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going down the same kind of road,” Stricker said. “Although the issues were different, the appearance of turning yellow, my eyes were yellow, I’m pissing Coke-colored urine…that was probably the part the scariest.
His mystifying illness began at the end of October 2021 with a sore throat and a bad cough. The PGA Tour Champions star was prescribed antibiotics and went deer hunting with his pals. That night his side ached and he had a fever of 103.
First hospitalized two weeks before Thanksgiving, Stricker was diagnosed with pericarditis and an irregular heartbeat, which at one point reached 160 beats per minute and stayed that high for two hours. Her blood work numbers – white and red blood cell counts, liver function tests – were alarming. He couldn’t eat solid food, could barely walk to the bathroom.
Stricker tested negative for COVID-19, but doctors at UW Health University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, were puzzled. They always are.
“It was all going south and they tell me they don’t know. It probably would have been easier if they said, “Here’s what’s going on,” Stricker said in a June 29 phone interview with The Beacon Journal. “They check all these big things – cancers, liver cancer, liver problems, and you hope and pray nothing comes back with a bad reading. They did a biopsy of my liver. There was a whole bunch of things.
Find a way to contribute: ‘I don’t know how he did it’: Blind North Olmsted teenager turns to golf to level the playing field
Northern Ohio Golf Charities funding programs help to: ‘He conquered so much’: Golf helps disabled man not walk or talk
“Looking in the mirror and seeing what I looked like wasn’t very comforting, just knowing what my brother went through.”
Stricker spent six months away from golf. He lost 25 to 30 pounds. He joked with Wisconsin.Golf’s Gary D’Amato in January that he looked like an 85-year-old man with hanging skin.
“It almost sounds cliché, life is short, but I think it really hits home…to think we were about to lose it,” Stricker’s wife, Nicki, told The Beacon Journal, also thinking to their two daughters, Bobbi and Izzi.
Since returning, Steve Stricker has rediscovered Champions Tour success
As for where he was in November, Stricker made a stunning recovery. Returning to competition on April 29, he has one win, two seconds and five top 10 finishes in six Champions Tour events, including a triumph in his fourth senior major, Regions Tradition, on May 15.
Stricker will return to Akron to defend his title in the $3 million Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, which opens Thursday at Firestone Country Club, just as amazed as everyone else by his performance in 2022.
“I have this faith that I’m going to go out there and play well, even if I don’t feel 100 per cent,” Stricker said. “I feel like every player on the Champions Tour has some sort of illness or problem. It’s getting better, no doubt. It’s a process. I lost it in a short time, but I think that it will take me longer to get him back where I feel before that happens.
Culver, Dunkin’ Munchkins shakes helped Steve Stricker regain strength
How Stricker began to regain his strength had his light moments.
He had no appetite or strength to eat, but no saliva either. He believes this was due to the medication, which included a beta-blocker and a blood thinner, as once he started weaning himself off these, his dry mouth improved.
“I could try drinking a smoothie or something, but nothing even tasted good,” Stricker said. “[Nicki] tried to bring me culver shakes or hospital shakes and I drank a little. Who doesn’t like the shake of a Culver, right? I had no appetite, no energy to eat. Even when I got home I struggled to eat for another month and that’s why I lost so much weight.
Thanks to a girl’s travels to Dunkin’, Munchkins’ donut holes became her “solution.” He tried to eat one and wash it down with something. Next up are the Culver jerks.
“I was taking fries and dunking them in the shakes so I could take them down,” Stricker said. “It was all those little little things.”
Update on the North Royalton teenager featured in 2021: Miraculous Stroke Survivor Vinny Mercurio Focuses on Baseball and Football
Golf Ambassador: Golf Q&A with Condoleezza Rice: Breaking 80, Two Holes in One, and Akron Tips from Tiger
His former favorite soft drink, Sun Drop, provided another story.
“When my heart had no rhythm, I was like, ‘Fuck you, I’m going to have half a Sun Drop,'” Stricker said. “Sugar and all that is probably not good for the heart and I hadn’t had that kind of stuff for a few months. No alcohol. Wouldn’t you know my heart is picking up its pace this afternoon after drinking the morning soda? I attributed it to Sun Drop. Nicki and the kids roll their eyes, ‘There’s no way.’
“Then I go back to that Sun Drop kick for a little while. Now I’m leaving again. It’s my only vice. I like to have a coke. I gave up Sun Drop, now I take a coke a day. I think I need to get rid of it too.
During the crisis, Stricker never lost faith that he would recover.
“It was a test for him in the hospital at night when he was there all alone, just the mental, he said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done,” Nicki said. “It was just kind of a trust in what we were hearing and then just a faith that no matter what, it was going to be okay.”
Stricker relied on the positive and optimistic attitude that has always characterized him.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to get through this,'” he said. “The only good thing is when they would take these blood samples and come back and say, ‘No, we don’t see anything. There is no cancer. There are no other problems. We checked all these important things and nothing. So I’m like, ‘OK, it’s like an inspection of your car. They checked everything and nothing came back. I’m like, ‘OK, that’s good news.’
“Even if they were like, ‘We can’t find it’, I took it as, ‘OK, I dodged another bullet, really, of something they were looking for. “”
Steve Stricker suspects Ryder Cup stress, COVID-19 vaccine played part in his illness
Nicki Stricker said her husband was “just kinda wired that way” to stay positive.
“He obviously struggled in 2005 and 2006, so this kind of comeback is not something new mentally for him,” she said.
Stricker said the pressure exerted as Ryder Cup captain for the Americans’ 19-9 victory over the Europeans at Whistling Straits could have played a role.
“All that stress of the last few years, especially the last month, and the way your body takes a deep breath after it’s over and let’s go,” he said. “It’s all coming to a head, isn’t it, probably?” Who knows?”
But that’s not the most important thing in his mind.
“Deep down, I just felt like I was having a reaction to this vaccine,” Stricker said. “You read about the vaccine and myocarditis or pericarditis. Maybe I had some virus of some kind that caused it and they can’t put a name to it, which they said possible. … »
He eventually caught COVID-19, which forced him to retire from the Senior PGA Championship on May 24. He said on a June 15 conference call that he felt it was setting him back.
When Stricker says he’s lucky to be alive, it’s no longer a cliché.
“Yeah, even though I worked on my health and tried to stay healthy and active, I always took it for granted,” he said. “’I feel bulletproof. It showed how fast things can really turn and sometimes you have no control over it. So that was definitely a red flag.
Nicki Stricker isn’t looking for answers. She’s more focused on the future and what they’ve gained from Stricker’s tough six months. Steve is thrilled that his daughter Bobbi took part in an Epson Tour event, the Island Resort Championship, in Michigan last month with Nicki on her bag and may take part in a few more of these events. Izzi recently shot 74 and was the low qualifier for an upcoming AJGA event in Wisconsin.
“The way I see it, the important thing is what he learned from it, whether it was about himself, what’s important to him,” Nicki said. “There’s just been a change in him about what really matters. It’s not like I feel like those things that we all feel as a family are important aren’t, I think they’re just seen a little differently.
“It gave us all a different perspective. The effect it had on the girls, not that they didn’t like their dad and they didn’t like their dad, you just see it a little differently. If you believe things happen for a reason, it’s like, ‘What good did it come out of?’ I think we continue to see this every day.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.