When he looked in the mirror, Steve Stryker realized how close he was to death.
Scott, Stryker’s older brother, died in 2014 at the age of 51 after suffering from Crohn’s disease and undergoing a liver transplant. Straker, 55, was in the midst of his second hospital stay with a host of serious problems, including jaundice.
That was why the reflection that Stryker saw was so disturbing.
“My brother had some digestive issues and I watched him go through the same things. I watched him turn yellow, his eyes yellow and I look in the mirror and say, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going the same way,'” said Stryker. “Although the problems were different, my appearance turning yellow, my eyes were yellow, and I peed Coca-Cola-colored urine…that was probably the scariest part.”
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His baffling illness began in late October 2021 with a sore throat and severe cough. The PGA Tour Champions star was prescribed antibiotics and went on a deer hunt with his buddies. That night his side hurt and he had a fever of 103.
First hospitalized two weeks before Thanksgiving, Straker was diagnosed with pericarditis and an arrhythmia, which at one point reached 160 beats per minute and remained elevated for two hours. The numbers from the blood analysis — white and red cell counts, and liver function tests — were worrisome. He couldn’t eat solid food, and he could barely walk to the bathroom.
Straker tested negative for COVID-19, but doctors at UW Health University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, were puzzled. Still.
“Everything was going south and they were telling me they didn’t know. It might have been easier to be like, ‘This is what’s going on,'” Stryker said in a phone interview with the Beacon Journal in June. 29. “They check all this big stuff—cancers, liver cancer, liver problems, and you just hope and don’t pray nothing will come back with a bad reading. They took a liver biopsy. There was a whole bunch of stuff.
“Looking in the mirror and seeing what I look like wasn’t very comfortable, just to see what my brother went through.”
Straker spent six months away from golf. Lost 25 to 30 pounds. He joked to Gary D’Amato of Wisconsin, Golf in January that he looked like an 85-year-old with his skin hanging off.
“It sounds almost tacky, life is short, but I think this really hits the house…I think we were very close to losing it,” Stryker’s wife, Nikki, told the Beacon Journal, also thinking about their daughters Bobby and Izzie. .
In terms of where he was in November, Stricker made an amazing recovery. Returning to the competition on April 29, he racked up a win, two seconds, and five of the top 10 in six events of the Champions Tour, including his victory in his fourth major tournament, Regions Traditions, on May 15.
Stricker will return to Akron, Ohio, to defend his title in the $3 million Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, which opened Thursday at Firestone Country Club, just as everyone else is amazed by his performance in 2022.
“I have faith I’m going to go out there and play well, even if I don’t feel 100%,” said Stryker. “I feel like all Champions Tour players have some kind of illness or problem. It’s getting better, no doubt. It’s a process. I lost it in a short amount of time, but I think it’s going to take longer to get it back to where I feel like I was before that happened. “.
How Stryker began to regain his strength had his hilarious moments.
He had neither the appetite nor the strength to eat, but he had no saliva either. He believes it was due to the medications, which included beta-blockers and blood thinners, because once he started off them, his dry mouth improved.
“I could try drinking juice or something, but nothing even tastes good,” said Stricker. “(Nicky) tried to get Culver’s shakes or shakes from the hospital and I was drinking a little. Who doesn’t like Culver’s shakes, right? I had no appetite, no energy to eat. Even when I came home, I had a hard time eating for another month. Which is why I lost so much weight.”
Thanks to his daughter’s trips to Dunkin’, Munchkins donut holes have become his “fix it.” Try to eat one and wash it down with something. Then it was Culver’s tremors.
“I’d get some french fries and dip them in the shakes so I could take them down,” Stryker said. “It was all these little little things.”
His favorite soft drink, Sun Drop, told another story.
“When my heart was running out of rhythm, I was like, ‘Fuck, I’m going to get a drop of sun,’” Stryker said. There is no alcohol. Don’t you know my heart was back in rhythm that afternoon after I had a morning soda, which I attribute to Sun Drop. Nikki and the kids roll their eyes, “There’s no way.”
“Then I go back to that Sun Drop kick for a while. Now I’ve turned it off again. This is my vice. I like to have a Coca-Cola. I’ve given up on Sun Drop, and now I’m on Coca-Cola kind of every day. I think I need to get rid of that too” .
During the crisis, Straker did not lose faith that he would recover.
“It was a hospital test for him at night when he was there alone, just mentally, he said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done,” Nikki said. “It was kind of a belief in what we were hearing and then, just a belief that no matter what, he’s going to be OK.”
Straker relied on the positive, upbeat attitude that had always characterized him.
“I felt like I was going to get over this,” he said. “The only good thing is when they would draw blood samples and come back and say, ‘No, we’re not seeing anything. There’s no cancer. There are no other problems. We’ve checked all these major things and nothing.’ So I say, ‘Well, it’s more like They checked your car. They checked everything and nothing came back.” I’m like, “Okay, that’s good news.”
Even though they were telling me, ‘We can’t find him,’ I took it, ‘Well, I dodged another bullet, really, from something they were looking for. “”
Nikki Straker said her husband “just kind of wires it that way” to stay positive.
“He obviously had some difficulties in 2005 and 2006, so this kind of comeback is not something new mentally for him,” she said.
Straker said the pressures of serving as the captain of the Ryder Cup to the Americans’ 19-9 victory over the Europeans at Wesling Straits may have played a role.
“All this stress in the last few years, especially the last month, and how your body kind of takes a deep breath after it’s over and let’s go,” he said. “It’s all coming into his head, right, probably? Who knows?”
But this is not first of all on his mind.
“Deep down, I had a feeling I was having a reaction to this vaccine,” Stryker said. “I had read about the vaccine and myocarditis or pericarditis. I might have had a virus of some sort that caused them to not be able to put a name to it, which they said was possible…”
He eventually contracted COVID-19, forcing him to withdraw from the Senior PGA Championship on May 24. He said during a conference call on June 15 that he felt like it brought him back again.
When Straker says he’s lucky to be alive, that’s no longer a cliché.
“Yes, even though I worked on my health and tried to stay healthy and active, I always took that for granted,” he said. “I feel like I’m bulletproof. It showed how fast things can really spin and sometimes you just have no control over it. So that was definitely a wake-up call.”
Nikki Straker does not look back for answers. She focuses more on the future and what they gained from six difficult months for Straker. Steve is excited that her daughter Bobby played at the Epson Tour event, the Island Resort Championship, in Michigan last month with Nicki on her bag and she might be in for more of those events. Izzi recently shot a 74 and was the low qualification for the upcoming AJGA event in Wisconsin.
“The way I look at him, the important thing is what he’s learned from him, whether it’s about himself, what’s important to him,” Nikki said. “There was a shift in him about what was really important. It’s not like I felt like those things we all feel as a family weren’t important, I think they look at it a little differently.
“It’s all given us a different perspective. The effect it has on girls, it’s not that they didn’t appreciate their dad and didn’t love their dad, you look at it a little differently. If you have faith that things happen for a reason, like, ‘What’s the point of this?’ I think we keep going. Seeing it every day.”
Follow Marla Ridenour on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.