Before Kevin Streelman had made it on the PGA Tour – and before his long road to get there – he was a member of the Duke golf team in 1998-2001, playing Pinehurst No. 2 in the dark.
Thanks to their coach, the Duke golf team had an in at No. 2 for the last tee time during the winter months, just after 2 p.m. Streelman, along with good friends and teammates Paul Tucker and Mike Christensen, would make the 90-minute drive down from Durham, teeing off in the afternoon and racing to finish the round before the light completely disappeared.
“Pretty darn dark,” Christensen said, remembering navigating the 18th. “Not that we were ever complaining about that.”
The guys would dream about a time when they would be back at No. 2 in the daylight and on display for a gallery of thousands. For Streelman, a new father currently ranked No. 56 in the world with career earnings just a few thousand dollars short of $10 million, that moment will come Thursday, in the 2014 U.S. Open on Pinehurst No. 2.
“He had to stay really patient early on in those first few years out of school, because he did not play that well,” said Tucker, his freshman year roommate and best man. “It was just a matter of working hard and having all of that work pay off at some point.”
A fine line Unlike the 10,127 golfers with a handicap of 1.4 or better who attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Streelman already had an exemption to play in the tournament.
“There are a lot of guys that are just a few rounds, a few good weeks of momentum away from setting their career,” said Allen Terrell, director of the Dustin Johnson Golf School and former Duke assistant coach during Streelman’s sophomore and junior years. “It’s a fine line, and no one knows what tops that balance between being someone no one has heard of and being a PGA Tour winner.”
As a professional, Streelman was on the wrong side of the line for 12 years – six were spent on mini tours around the country, and it took him 153 starts before he won his first PGA tournament, the 2013 Tampa Bay Championship. While Streelman, at times, appeared to be a long shot to make the PGA Tour (in 2004 a sponsor stopped returning his calls and he was stranded in San Diego with $400 in his bank account), he always had the raw talent.