PINEHURST, N.C..-- As Kevin Streelman and his playing partner Ken Duke walked down the 11th fairway at the Pinehurst No. 2 golf course, in their practice round, you could see a little smile come across the faces of several of the people watching this twosome. The grins came because they noticed the sign being carried by the young man showing which two players were in this group. It read, DUKE, STREELMAN, a very fitting sign for the former Blue Devil golfer.
You could also see a little spring in the step of the 35-year old Streelman as he walked along the fairways of a very familiar No. 2 having made several trips in his college days with his teammates and buddies Paul Tucker and Mike Christensen to play late in the afternoon. But this time it will be different. Not only will it be in the 114th U.S. Open, but it will be the first time he has ever played competitively on this famed Donald Ross course.
“I think they have done a brilliant job with the redesign, it almost looks a touch like a British Open in some places with it already beginning to brown out a little,” Streelman explained following his practice round. “It will be really fast and you have to control your golf ball around this course, it will be a real test.”
This is Streelman’s fifth U.S. Open overall and fourth consecutive appearance in golf’s national championship event having played in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. His best finish of 53rd came in 2008 at Torrey Pines, a tournament where he led after the first day of competition.
Currently this season, he has played in 14 events making 11 cuts with one top-10 finish and three top-25 finishes. Streelman has amassed $825,439 and is ranked 81st in FedEx points and 56th in the world rankings and has collected nearly $10 million in earnings during his golfing career.
He burst onto the golfing world in 2008 after having played in just four events from 2003 to 2005. In his actual rookie season on the PGA Tour, Streelman played in 32 events making 24 cuts and pulling in $1,352,705.00. The next three seasons he amassed over $1 million in earnings each year.
Streelman’s biggest season thus far came in 2013 highlighted by a victory at the Tampa Bay Championship, in his 153rd start on the Tour, along with a second and third place finish during the year. All total he pulled in $3,088,284.00, played in the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta and finished 17th in FedEx points.
His best finishes this year have come at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii when he finished tied for third after posting a 17-under 275, just two strokes off the winner Zach Johnson’s 273. At the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte this past May, he finished tied for 14 at six-under. Streelman played in the first major of the season finishing 42nd overall in Augusta, Georgia in April at the Masters.
After winning over $160,000 in three consecutive tournaments, the Masters, RBC Heritage and Wells Fargo, Streelman has missed the cut at his last three events, The Players Championship, Memorial Tournament and FedEx St. Jude in Memphis. Despite the recent stumbles, he is poised for strong performance at Pinehurst.
“I’m back to feeling pretty good about my swing,” he said after walking off the 18th green at No. 2. “I really like this course and look forward to going out and playing.”
The 2014 campaign has been Streelman’s most complicated season on tour so far. It started the day after Christmas when his first child Sophie Marie was born, premature at five pounds, one ounce and following a difficult pregnancy which led to complications. Sophie was hooked up to monitors and checked by nurses around the clock following her birth.
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions played the first week of January at the Kapalua Resort in Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on earth but was the last place Streelman wanted to be with his new daughter fighting in the first weeks of her life.
“I really didn’t want to be at the tournament I just wanted to get back home,” he explained. “I didn’t worry so much about playing and almost won it.”
Sophie is now doing fine and she and her mom along with both sets of grandparents are in Pinehurst for the Open.
“Sophie’s awesome,” he explained with a big grin on the face of a proud father. “It makes going home a lot more fun. Not that I didn’t have fun going home to Courtney, but to have both of them there now, is pretty special. It makes those bad days on the course so much better because family brings such proper perspective.”
“Ever since then I have taken it easy and spent more time at home with the girls,” he added. “Now I’m trying to get a little momentum going into the majors, I’m playing here which is the third of four in a row, then I will take two weeks off before going to the Scottish Open and then the British Open and PGA and the FedEx playoffs will be here before we know it.”
Streelman’s golfing odyssey is well documented. As a Blue Devil, he captured The Intercollegiate at MacGregor Downs in Cary, N.C. in 2001, then following graduation played “every tour you can name” in his words, for the next seven years until obtaining his tour card at Tour School in 2007, after having captured the 2007 Opelika Classic on the NGA Hooters Tour and winning three tournaments on the Gateway Tour in 2007.
It was that experience that really matured him as a player and a person.
“The early years were key to me understanding what I had to do to play winning golf,” he explained. “Now I feel I have the tools and can go out and enjoy playing and being successful.”
“He’s become a lot more comfortable on the course,” said his father, Dennis Streelman, who walked the course with him during the practice round. “With the win last year he knows he belongs on the PGA Tour and plays much more relaxed which has freed him up to play with a great deal more confidence. At Tampa when he won he hit a great cut 5-iron into the par three with the pin cut deep on the right hand side which took a player with a great deal of confidence in his game, especially with the pressure on him.”
The confident and mature Streelman is also very proud of the fact that three Duke golfers are playing in this U.S. Open this year with Joe Ogilvie and Ryan Blaum joining him in Pinehurst.
“Joe has always been a big brother to me,” said Streelman, “especially my first year on the tour with where to stay and what restaurants to go to, even in the financial world we use the same investment guy. He’s always been a good friend. Ryan, Joe and I have been trying to work our schedules so we can play a practice round together hopefully on Wednesday,” he added.
And following Wednesday the practice rounds will be over and the actual competition will begin on No. 2 for Streelman who tees off at 2:09 on Thursday off #10 with Ryan Palmer and Rod Pampling, then Friday morning off the #1 tee at 8:24.