Off the course, Steve Stricker and Mario Tiziani have been close, more like brothers than the brothers-in-law they are. On it, they have been in different worlds.
Stricker, 38, who is married to the former Nicki Tiziani, Mario's sister and the daughter of Steve's longtime coach, Dennis Tiziani, is an 11-year veteran and three-time winner on the PGA Tour. He was marked for stardom after winning three Big Ten titles--one of them by 14 strokes--at Illinois in 1986, '88 and '89. After Stricker won the '96 Western Open by eight shots and was runner-up to Vijay Singh at the '98 PGA
Championship, Fred Couples labeled him "the next Nick Faldo."
Tiziani, 34, whose wife, Kressi, is an orthodontist, spent the last 12 years in golf's minor leagues, most recently on the Canadian tour, chasing a career in the game. Though he was the Big Ten's freshman of the year in 1989 at Wisconsin, where his dad coached the team, Tiziani flunked the Tour's Q school 11 times.
Finally, in December, Stricker's and Tiziani's professional lives converged when, on try number 12, Tiziani got his Tour card. But here's the ironic twist: Stricker lost his.
tiziani had never even made it as far as the finals of Q school, and he had decided that his 2004 bid "was going to be the last go-round for me." With two daughters, Alexa, four, and McKella, almost two, he says, "It wasn't making sense to be away from my family and not make much money." But then he breezed through the first two stages of Q school in October and November and was inside the number--among the top 30 and ties who qualify for their cards--for most of the six-round final at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.
On the last day he birdied the 16th hole, then hit the dangerous island green at the par-3 17th and sank a 25-footer for another birdie. Leaving the green, Tiziani learned from Donna Caponi of the Golf Channel that he was a shot inside the number. "I was first up on the last tee, and I told my caddie, 'I can't wait,'" Tiziani says. "I had it teed up and gone before the rest of the group made it to the tee box." Tiziani hit the fairway, made a par and finished 21st at eight under.
Kressi and Alexa were waiting for him in the scorer's trailer. "When I walked in to sign my card, I saw my wife, and she was crying," Tiziani says. "My little girl couldn't care less; she only wanted a hug. We all hugged. I felt a gamut of emotions. It was unreal."
Stricker should've been in Q school too. In late October, when Jeff Brehaut birdied the 72nd hole of the Chrysler Championship--the final full-field Tour event of 2004--he finished 30th, won $29,062.50 and bumped Stricker, who had missed the cut at the Chrysler, to 151st on the Tour money list. Each year the top 125 money winners are fully exempt for the next year. The next 25 players get conditional exemptions. A mere $1,966 separated Stricker from No. 150, Paul Stankowski. "In hindsight I probably made a mistake," Stricker says of not entering Q school, "but I needed time to regroup and work on my game."
He spent December at home in Madison, Wis., with Nicki and their six-year-old daughter, Bobbi. He mostly enjoyed the downtime, except when he was reminded of his decline in the Tour ranks. Out shopping with Nicki, Stricker says, "I catch a guy looking at me. He does a double take and says, 'Aren't you a golfer?' I say, 'Maybe.' He looks at me for a minute and says, 'Hey, you're that Stricker!' I'm like, 'Uh, that's right.' And he goes, 'Yeah, you used to be really good.' My wife bites her tongue. I laugh, but try to be nice and tell him, 'Well, I'm working on my game.' That happened three times over Christmas."