When he looked in the mirror, Steve Stryker realized how close he was to death.
Stricker’s older brother, Scott, died in 2014 at the age of 51 after battling Crohn’s disease and undergoing a liver transplant. The striker, 55, is in the middle of his second hospital stay with serious complications, including jaundice.
That is why the reflection seen by the striker is very disturbing.
“My brother has some GI issues and I’ve seen him go through the same things. I’ve seen him turn yellow, his eyes turn yellow, and I look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going down the same kind of road,'” ” said the striker. “Although the problems are different, the yellowing, my eyes are yellow, I’m peeing the color of coke … that’s probably the scariest part.”
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His mysterious illness began in late October 2021 with a sore throat and bad cough. The PGA Tour Champions star was prescribed antibiotics and went deer hunting with his friends. That night he had a pain in his side and a fever of 103.
First admitted to the hospital two weeks before Thanksgiving, the striker was diagnosed with pericarditis and an irregular heartbeat that at one point reached 160 beats per minute and remained elevated for two hours. The numbers from his blood work — white and red cell counts, liver function tests — were dire. He couldn’t eat solid food, couldn’t walk to the bathroom.
Stryker tested negative for Covid-19, but doctors at UW Health University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, were stumped. They still exist.
“Everything is going south and they’re telling me they don’t know. It would have been a lot easier if they were like, ‘This is what’s going on,'” Stryker said in a telephone interview with the Beacon Journal in June. 29. “They’re checking for all the big things like cancers, liver cancer, liver problems, and you hope and pray nothing comes back with a bad reading. They took a biopsy of my liver. A whole bunch of things.
“Looking in the mirror and seeing what I looked like wasn’t very comforting, knowing what my brother went through.”
The striker spent six months away from golf. He lost 25 to 30 pounds. He joked to Wisconsin.Golf’s Gary D’Amato in January that he looks like an 85-year-old with his skin hanging off.
“It’s almost a cliché, life is short, but I think we’re so close to losing him…” the striker’s wife Nikki told the Beacon Journal, also thinking about their two daughters, Bobby and Izzy. .
As for where he was in November, the striker has made a remarkable recovery. Returning to competition on April 29, he has a win, two seconds and five top 10s in six Champions Tour events, including a victory at his fourth senior major, Regions Tradition, on May 15.
Striker will return to Akron, Ohio, to defend his title at the $3 million Bridgestone Senior Players Championship starting Thursday at Firestone Country Club, as surprised as anyone by his 2022 performance.
“Even if I’m not feeling 100%, I’m confident I’ll go out there and play well,” the striker said. “I think all Champions Tour players have had some kind of illness or problem. It’s getting better, no question. It’s a process. I lost it in a short amount of time, but I think it’s going to take me a long time to get back to where I was before it happened. “
There were lighter moments of how the striker began to regain his strength.
He had no appetite and no energy to eat, but no saliva either. He believed it was due to the beta blocker and blood thinner medications, because once he started getting off them, his dry mouth improved.
“I could try drinking a smoothie or something like that, but nothing tasted good,” the striker said. “(Nikki) tried to bring me Culver shakes or shakes from the hospital and I would drink some. Who doesn’t like a Culver shake, right? I had no appetite, no energy to eat. I also got home and I struggled to eat for another month and that’s why I was so I lost weight.”
Thanks to the daughter’s trips to Dunkin’, Munchkin’s Donut Holes became her “fix.” He ate one and tried to wash it down with something. Then it was Culver Shakes.
“I’ll get some french fries and dip it in the shakes so I can get it down,” the striker said. “It’s all the little things.”
His old favorite soft drink, Sun Drop, offers another story.
“When my heart skipped a beat, I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m going to get half a sun drop,'” the striker said. “Sugar and all that’s probably not good for your heart and I haven’t had any of that stuff in months. No alcohol. Don’t you know my heart goes back into rhythm after I drink? A morning soda? I attribute it to the sun drop. Nicky and the kids rolled their eyes, ‘No way. .’
“Then I got back on this Sun Drop kick for a while. Now I’m off it again. That’s my only vice. I love coke. I gave up Sun Drop and now I take a coke a day. I’m thinking of getting rid of that too.”
Through the crisis, the striker never lost faith that he would recover.
“The test for him at night when he was alone in the hospital, just mentally, he said, it was the hardest thing he’s ever done,” Nikki said. “It’s about believing what we hear and then, whatever happens, it’s okay.”
The striker has always relied on the positive, upbeat attitude that characterizes him.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to get away with this,'” he said. “One good thing is that they’re taking these blood samples and coming back and saying, ‘No, we’re not seeing anything. No cancer. No other problems. We checked all these major things and nothing. ‘ So I said, ‘Well, it’s like checking your car. They checked everything and nothing came back.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s good news.’
Even though they were telling me, “We didn’t find it,” I thought it was, “Well, I dodged another bullet, really dodged what they were looking for.” “
Nikki Stryker says her husband is “just wired like that” to be positive.
“He obviously had some struggles in ’05 and ’06, so that kind of comeback is nothing new for him emotionally,” she said.
The striker said the pressure of serving as Ryder Cup captain played a part in the Americans’ 19-9 victory over the Europeans in the Whistling Straits.
“All that stress over the last few years, especially the last month, and after it’s over how your body takes a deep breath and let’s go,” he said. “It all comes to a head, right, maybe? Who knows?”
But that was not the main thing in his mind.
“I felt deep down that I had a reaction to this vaccine,” Stryker said. “You read about the vaccine and myocarditis or pericarditis. Maybe I had some virus that they couldn’t name the cause, they said it was possible. . . .”
He eventually contracted Covid-19, which forced him to withdraw from the Senior PGA Championship on 24 May. He said in a June 15 conference call that he felt pushed back again.
When the striker said he was lucky to be alive, it was no cliché.
“Yes, even though I worked on my health and tried to stay fit and active, I always took it for granted,” he said. “I feel bulletproof. It shows how fast things can really change and sometimes you have no control over it. So it was definitely a wake-up call.”
Nicky Striker isn’t looking back for answers. She is more focused on the future and what they have gained from the striker’s tough six months. Steve is excited that daughter Bobbie played in the Island Resort Championship, an Epson Tour event in Michigan last month, with Nicky on her bag, and that she can participate in more of those events. Izzy recently shot a 74 and is the low qualifier for an upcoming AJGA event in Wisconsin.
“The way I look at it, the important thing is what he learned from it, it’s about himself, what’s important to him,” Nikki said. “There’s just a shift in him about things that are real. It’s not that I think things that we all feel as a family aren’t important, I think they’re just looking at things a little bit differently.
“It gave us all a different perspective. The effect it had on the girls, it’s not that they don’t appreciate their father and they don’t love their father, you look at it a little differently. If you believe. Things happen for a reason, it’s like, ‘What good did it do?’ I think we’ll continue to see that every day.”
Follow Marla Ridenour on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.