DURHAM -- Former Duke golfer Kevin Streelman is really enjoying this year on the PGA Tour.
He has captured the Tampa Bay Championship, placed second at The Players Championship and two weeks ago had his best finish in a major with a 12th place showing at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York.
And this week Streelman heads into the FedEx Playoffs for the Tour Championship in 13th place in FedEx points, the system used by the PGA Tour to determine player rankings for the season. The first tournament is The Barclays at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, N.J. beginning Thursday.
In some ways it has been a breakthrough season for Streelman who started the year with a solid 10th place finish at the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, California then in March he broke through with his first win on the PGA Tour at the Tampa Bay Championship at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla., firing a 10 under score of 284.
It other ways it has been the continuation of a steady climb toward a goal of being the best professional golfer he can be. The Tampa Bay win came in his 153rd start on the Tour.
“It was huge,” explained the 2001 Duke grad. “It was my sixth year out here and I felt it was time. I felt comfortable in that situation. I told a lot of people that I had been in that situation enough times and not come through that I was just going to go out there and give it my all. If I didn't come through again, it wouldn't be that big a deal. I went out there free swinging, hit a lot of great shots, and was able to bring it home.”
Those six years on the tour have given Streelman a true understanding of the difference in Tour golf and playing in the majors.
“I’m definitely getting more comfortable on the big golf courses and the big stage,” said the Winfield, Illinois native who now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Courtney. “It’s a definite leap from a regular PGA Tour event to a major. You have to play those courses differently. You have to hit the fairway and you have to hit the right part of the green and sometimes hitting it to within 30 feet can be a great shot. It’s different from just shooting at pins on the Tour stops, you just have to wrap your mind around it and understand the difference in the courses.. That’s why you see guys like Lee Westwood top ten every time, guys like Tiger and Phil in contention all the time, they know how to play these type courses. They set them up differently, you have to be smart and I am continuing to learn. I’m 34, it’s an incredible game, and I feel blessed to be able to play it.”
Streelman, who has earned $2,784,418.00 this season has five top ten and seven top 25 finishes, and has won over $8 million in his career. He feels he’s ready to take his game to the next level.
“My next level is to compete at a major on Sunday,” said Streelman, a Sociology major who was a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity at Duke. “It’s one thing to say I need to win, it’s another thing to say I need to go out and compete and see what happens. That’s what I kept doing in PGA Tour events and finally I was able to break through at Tampa. It wasn’t anything I was doing different with my swing; it was just calmness in my mind. I think that’s what the great ones have had and had in the past and is something I am learning. Sometime you make a bogey or double, you can’t get upset and you must learn how to bounce back, stay calm and keep playing.”
Streelman is well aware of how hard you have to work to be successful at the game of golf. Following graduation from Duke he used his mom’s Nissan Altima to travel to South Dakota for the 2001 Dakota Tour. He burned out three cars logging in more than 300,000 miles criss-crossing the country playing various Tours. In 2007 he earned his way on the PGA Tour through Qualifying School.
In his first season on Tour, in 2008, he made early waves with a 29th finish at the Buick Invitational, had the lead after the first day of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, then put together a couple of top ten finishes and captured over $1.3 million. 2009 was a big year for Streelman even though he didn’t win an event as he captured $1 million in the Kodak Challenge; an event played over 30 PGA Tour events featuring a designated Kodak Challenge hole. Players had to play at least 18 of the 30 Kodak Challenge holes throughout the season to compete. In 2010 he used a third place finish at The Barclays and a ninth place finish at the Tour Championship at East Lake to finish among the top 30 players on tour and win over $1.4 million.
His position at No. 13 in the FedEx standings this season gives him a chance to make something really special happen.
“The big goal is to get to the Tour Championship, so I still need some good weeks and I really feel my game is in shape to get to the championship,” added Streelman. “I feel comfortable about my game right now, I have played against all these guys, and I’ve beaten them and know my game is as good as anyone on the tour.”
The PGA Tour’s FedEx Playoffs begin Thursday, August 22 at The Barclays at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, N.J. with the top 125 point leaders. The Deutsche Bank Championship will be the next stop, August 29 – September 2 at the TPC Boston course in Norton, Mass., with the top 100 players in Fed Ex points competing. The top 70 players will then move onto the BMW Championship, September 12-15 at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill. The Tour Championship will be played September 19-22 at East Lake Golf Course in Atlanta with the top 30 players in the FedEx standings vying for the prize of $10 million and the Tour title.