Kevin Streelman is 44 years old. He played his first PGA Tour event in 2003. And Friday, in contention at the RSM Classic, he brought up a few things he’s learned in the two decades since.
Sometimes we associate youth with aggression and age with caution. Not so, says Streelman.
“You’re here week after week and you just have to attack. That’s what I tell these kids,” he said. He was specifically referring to Joel Dahmen, also in the mix at RSM, who talked about playing with fear earlier Friday. Streelman understands the fear, but said the key to longevity on Tour is learning from that fear. Making use of it. I look down.
“When you have a chance to do something great here, you have to go for it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard because we’re playing for a lot of money and we have a lot of FedEx points and you’re like, maybe second place, third place isn’t too bad.”
Streelman warns against this kind of overly safe thinking.
“I tell kids like me, 420 events in my career you don’t remember as third places, fifth places. Do you remember the wins or do you remember the losses and when you were on the hunt. This is what we live for, this is what we live for as athletes. I just encourage them, if you have a chance, go for it and see what happens, and in the end you’ll be okay with it.”
Of course, it’s not always that easy. The reason sports are interesting is the possibility of failure. Every athlete fears failure and there is plenty of time to think in golf. Doubt. Fear.
Streelman cited a lesson he learned from his caddy at the 2013 Tampa Bay (now Valspar) Championship. He held a two-shot lead on the 18th tee and wondered if he should lie down with a 3-wood or a 5-wood. His carrier AJ Montecinos wasn’t having it.
“He looks at me — I haven’t missed a fairway all day — and says, ‘You’re fighting.’
the f— fairway driver.’
Streelman stepped up, hit a driver down the fairway, hit a wedge on the green and won the tournament. Lesson learned.
“There’s a fine line between that confidence and fear.” Sometimes we need help with it, sometimes it just comes,” Streelman added. “But you don’t tend to play too long on weekends if you play with too much fear.
He credited that attitude to his long tenure on the Tour. It was also a lucrative time: Streelman is 69th on the PGA Tour’s career earnings list with just over $25 million. But he’s been thinking about the end of his career, even if he’s fighting it. He knows he can’t keep up with the young Bombers — he ranked 131st in yardage last season — but he still has plenty of game, too.
“I had a great chat with my wife, Courtney,” he said. “We had a date a few weeks ago and I said to her, ‘if you’re ready for me to be home, let me know.’ I’m ready. She is having a hard time, all our wives are having a hard time with our children, an eight year old and a six year old. I’m on the road, we’re away next week, my fourth week in a row away. So I’m missing, Sophie has 101 dalmatins the musical today and tomorrow that I miss, which kills me. But he has to prepare her for that. He has to get Rhett into football. Must be mom.
“I said if you need help, you gave up the last 20 years of your life for me, and if you’re ready, I’m ready. He’s like no, I want you there, you’re still doing well. I said fine. While I’m here, I’ll do everything I can to be the best I can be.”
Streelman’s best self was very good in two rounds at RSM. He opened with a 68 before shooting a second-round 64 in which he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation and made seven birdies. He recognized it as the beauty of golf. And he quoted philosopher Toby Keith.
“The great thing about our sport is that you can still have a magical week. It can happen,” he said. “It’s like, maybe not as good as I once was, but for once I’m as good as I’ve ever been.” It’s like a line.”
Other sports will tell you when much clearer. Streelman has plenty of contact with these athletes, both playing with them at home in Scottsdale and working with former Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at Pebble Beach.
“I asked him the same question and he said: I knew. He knew. It’s like a very fine line. He lost his step a bit and wasn’t as quick as the younger guys and it was over. But it’s not quite like that here. If some of us don’t wish it were that way, I think it’s not just because one magical week of putts and a week of striking balls can change everything. Then go back to chasing it again. Crazy stupid sport golf is sometimes.’
Crazy stupid sport. Streelman will continue to chase and hope this is the week that can change everything. And if not this week, maybe next.
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