Last Tuesday, WiscoGolfAddict contributing writer John Ziemer and I were at University Ridge Golf Course for the PGA Champions Tour American Family Championship media day in Madison, Wisconsin.
PGA and now Champions Tour legend Steve Stricker was mid-photo shoot when we arrived, leading up to the best interview panel I’ve seen in years: Stricker, last year’s event champion Kirk Triplett, two-time US Open winner and all-around world-class ambassador to the game of golf and the state of Wisconsin Andy North, American Family Insurance CEO Jack Salzwedel, and Tournament Director Nate Pokrass.
Staged questions to this prestigious panel were fairly quick and poignantly directed, allowing ample time for questions from the assembled media members.
Just over a week from the first US Open in the state’s history, much had been made about Stricker’s then-ineligibility for the country’s premier pro and amateur championship.
“This is the first US Open in the history of Wisconsin, and to not have a representative from Wisconsin is not right,” Steve told us. Currently the number 78th ranked player in the world, Stricker said “It’s not like I’m not competitive.”
Stricker has spent 253 total weeks as a top ten player in the official world golf rankings, won 12 times on the PGA Tour and 22 times total as a professional.
Eligible for the first time to play in the Champions Tour event at U-Ridge this year, Steve has been more than competitive over the past month, too, including:
- The Masters: Tied 16th (E)
- Zurich Classic: Tied 14th (-17)
- PLAYERS Championship: Tied 41st (+3)
- Dean & Deluca: Tied 7th (-6)
- Memorial Tournament: Tied 40th (+1)
The USGA’s refusal to allow Steve in the tournament has not just annoyed him, but also inspired him – Strick’s last chance was earlier today in Memphis where he shot 67-65 at Ridgeway and Germantown Country Clubs to take first place among all participants in the sectional qualifier.
Also announced today was the celebrity foursome for this year’s Saturday round at the AmFam Championship: Brett Favre, Derek Jeter, Darius Rucker and Andy North.
Rucker, the multi-platinum and Grammy award winning county artist and former front-man of Hootie & The Blowfish, will also be hosting a concert on Friday, June 23rd on-site at University Ridge.
Last year’s celebrity foursome drew huge crowds when Favre and North partnered with ex-Packer and Wisconsinite Mark Tauscher and tournament host Stricker (he was not yet eligible to play on the Champions Tour, but still hosted the event).
If celebrities, great concerts and a beautiful golf course isn’t enough to get you on the road to Madison for the AmFam Championship, then maybe great golf will be. Last year’s winner, Kirk Triplett, fielded questions at the media event about the tournament as well as his final round 65 to win the inaugural event by two strokes over Bart Bryant and Mike Goodes.
While Triplett will defend his title at University Ridge, he will be met by many of last year’s field as well as Stricker and some great notables including golf announcer and one of the game’s all-time greats, Sir Nick Faldo, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Scott McCarron and Tom Lehman. The AmFam Championship will be Faldo’s first Champions Tour event since 2015.
Tuesday was the first time I had the opportunity to play University Ridge since they renovated the course back in 2012, replacing putting surfaces with 007 Creeping Bent Grass, removing trees to allow for better air-flow and turf growth, adding a world-class indoor practice facility for the University of Wisconsin golf team, and making many other general improvements.
The results of their renovation are terrific. I was fortunate to be in a great foursome, too, including University of Wisconsin golf team head coach Mike Burcin, ESPN Wisconsin Homer & Gabe radio co-host Gabe Neitzel, and WISN Channel 12 Emmy award-winning sports reporter Stephen Watson.
I was the low man on the totem pole on that day, for sure. Neitzel moves the ball well, Watson is a huge hitter with great touch, and Burcin is an unbelievably skilled and well-rounded player. We finished at -9 or -10, which was good for fifth or sixth place. We lost by one stroke to Ziemer and our friends, Jason Kauflin (Wisconsin Golf Trips) and Chuck Garbedian’s (Garbedian on Golf, ESPN) team, which was the one sore spot on a fantastic day spent in Madison.
One of the shots they beat us with: Ziemer’s closest-to-the-pin winner on the par three 5th hole:
For AmFam Championship ticket information, including the Friday Darius Rucker concert, visit here:
For more information on Robert Trent Jones, Jr’s beautiful University Ridge Golf Course, visit the course’s website here:
I’m currently working on updating my review of U-Ridge including new and better photos, and you can also look forward to great pics from the media day event by John Ziemer. For now, here is my 2011 review: