Steve Stricker was back on the golf course for the first time in six months, playing 18 holes over three days and still feeling so upbeat after a fifth-place finish.

The result belonged to her daughter, Bobbi Maria, who competed in the East Coast Women’s Pro Golf Tour in Rio Pinar last month.

Stricker was his junior.

“I pushed his cart,” Stricker said Tuesday. “I was fine. I managed three days in a row. I think everything will be fine. But it will be a bit different.

The real test begins Friday outside Houston at the Insperity Invitational, where Stricker returns to PGA Tour Champions after a mysterious illness that hospitalized him, scared him and caused him to lose so much weight that his skin was starting to sag.

He said doctors still don’t know what caused his white blood cell count to rise, his liver count to drop, and the inflammation around his heart that caused him to pump out of rhythm.

He said they hadn’t ruled out a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine – he was vaccinated about a month before the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits – because Stricker says he’s unwavering when it comes to testing. annual blood and that he has never been on any medication.

“All of a sudden my liver is failing, I’m going yellow,” he said. “It makes no sense that I could get so sick.”

The timing put a damper on what was otherwise a glorious moment. Stricker dedicated three years as Ryder Cup captain – matches were postponed for a year due to the pandemic – and it culminated at home in Wisconsin when his young and fearless Team USA inflicted on the Europe its worst loss ever, 19-9.

“I’ve never won a major, but this is my major here,” he said on that September day.

A month later, Stricker returned from bowhunting and was feeling unwell. His side ached. His temperature rose to 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius). Stricker was hospitalized for 11 days, being discharged in time for Thanksgiving, only to be admitted again. His weight dropped to 163 pounds (73.9 kg).

So began the slow journey back, and Stricker now looks forward.

He turned 55 in February. He doesn’t need golf and that doesn’t define him. But it’s his passion, and his wife and two daughters are just as thrilled that he’s playing again. So it’s a family affair. It defines him.

Stricker tried to do some jumps on his simulator in their basement in Wisconsin in December. They headed to Florida – they’re building a little house in Isleworth – and he started playing chip and putt.

His winter home was previously in Naples – Stricker spent a Sunday morning packing boxes after the house sale, and Sunday afternoon winning the Chubb Classic – but Isleworth is giving him more games and more involvement family.

He has played in recent weeks with Retief Goosen and Andy Zhang, who qualified for the US Open at the Olympic Club when he was 14. Stricker’s wife, Nicki, takes lessons with Grant Waite, and that’s where she was Tuesday morning.

“I can’t help it anymore. No matter what I say, it’s wrong,” Stricker said with a laugh.

He said he weighed about 10 pounds less than before he got sick and was still working to gain muscle and stamina. Stricker has never been out of golf this long. Even when he had back surgery at the end of 2014, he returned for the Masters in April.

Six months seems a lot longer, and in some ways it’s recharged him even as he tries to regain his full strength.

“I have a little different outlook on things compared to where I was,” he said. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to get out there and play. I’m going there feeling like I can finish, but also knowing I have a long way to go. My cardiologist said I probably wouldn’t feel not well for a year from the time I was in the hospital.”

His plan is to play three consecutive weeks at the PGA Tour Champions – The Woodlands, TPC Sugarloaf outside of Atlanta, then the first senior major of the year in Alabama.

He could consider the Memorial if he plays well and doesn’t feel like he’s taking someone’s place on the pitch. Stricker made the cut in six of the nine PGA Tour events he appeared in last year, his best a tie for fourth place at the Phoenix Open.

What matters is that he plays, and that seemed like a long way off at one point. His wife will be on the bag at The Woodlands this week. His daughters arrive.

The tour released a video of Stricker over the weekend when he decided to play the Insperity Invitational. He spoke of a recent conversation with Ed Beard, his golf coach in Illinois, in which Stricker said he was “all in” whether it was golf or family, hunting or fishing.

“It gives me the opportunity to…get stronger again, to focus on getting back to golf,” he said. “And, again, my family wants it too. I mean, Nicki is thrilled that we’re back there. My kids can’t wait for me to play events again. So it’s a family affair and they’re Glad I’ll be back later.”

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