KAPALUA, Hawaii – Kevin Streelman walked off the Plantation Course on Friday afternoon, the victim of a bogey-bogey finish that dropped him from atop the leaderboard. That kind of conclusion supersedes the old dinner-won’t-taste-as-good adage. It’s the kind that usually means explosion time for most PGA Tour pros.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the scoring trailer.
Instead of scowling, Streelman smiled. Instead of slamming his fist against the nearest wall, he bounced right past it. Instead of imploring those nearby to give him a little cooling-off period, he cheerfully embraced his parents, here celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
There’s no way of quantifying the happiest guy in a 30-man field filled with ’em, but if we simply go by the ear-to-ear grin that’s been pasted on Streelman’s face all week, he’s easily the leader in the clubhouse.
And it’s all for good reason.
After a difficult pregnancy, his wife, Courtney, gave birth to their first child on Dec. 26, a little girl named Sophia. She had originally been due on Feb. 3, but Courtney suffered from cholestasis, a disease which affects 1 in 1,000 women. It attacks the liver, causing a higher percentage of stillbirths after Week 36 or 37.
So on the day after Christmas, the Streelmans drove to the hospital and along with their doctor decided it was time for Sophia to be born, six weeks before she was expected.
“You hope the child is screaming when she comes out,” Streelman explained. “She was quiet at first, then after about five seconds she let out this big scream. Courtney and I looked at each other and just started crying. It was the greatest thing ever.”
It certainly puts a little thing like a bogey-bogey finish into perspective.
Still smiling, Streelman reported after his round of 6-under 67 – good for a share of fifth place, but just one stroke off the Hyundai Tournament of Champions opening-round lead – that after seven days in the NICU unit, Sophia came home yesterday, 5 pounds and fully healthy.
“I miss her dearly, but Facetime is amazing,” he said. “To be able to sit there and hold the phone, I’ll just watch for 15 or 20 minutes. I just feel really fortunate. We went through a lot to have this child and we just really feel blessed to have her. I just can’t wait to be the best dad I can be.”
The truth is, the reigning Tampa Bay Championship winner was going to be the happiest guy in this field even before Sophia was born.
This is a player who wasn’t too highly regarded coming out of Duke University years ago, then went straight to the mini-est of mini-tours, even working as a caddie on the side to help make ends meet.
“I feel very, very fortunate to be here,” Streelman admitted. “It’s been an incredible journey to get here. It’s a dream come true. Since I left my parents’ house when I was 22 and graduated Duke. I went to the Dakotas Tour with clothes in the back and clubs in the trunk and hardly a dollar to my name and I’ve just been all over the globe ever since.”
“He was sleeping in Winnebagos and driving in his mother’s car,” recalled his father, Dennis. “It’s all true. He just persevered. He’d come home and I’d do his finances. It’d be, ‘Taco Bell, $4. Taco Bell, $4. Taco Bell, $4.’ He’s out there surviving. Literally surviving. He had that desire to play and get better every day.”
After years of grinding on the smaller circuits, Streelman finally reached the big leagues in 2008, finding enough success to keep his card, but not enough to claim a victory and earn the coveted trip to Kapalua. There was a first-round lead at the 2008 U.S. Open and more than a few title contentions along the way, but his big breakthrough – a seven-figure check and two-year exemption – finally came during last year’s Florida swing, when he shot a final-round 67 to win in his 153rd career PGA Tour start.
His success hasn’t come by accident, either.
“I had aspirations when I was younger of playing professional baseball, but I was drafted into the Army,” Dennis said. “You always think about something like that. I think I was pretty good, but I might not have been. But I always told my kids, ‘Try and find something that you really love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ That’s an old saying, but it really means a lot to me.
“The other thing I said is, ‘You should never give up on your dreams. Just follow them as far as you can take them and see what happens.’”
Streelman’s dreams have taken him all the way to Kapalua, the happiest guy in a field filled with ’em. His baby daughter is healthy, his wife is healthy and – albeit much lower on the priority scale – his golf game appears healthy, too.
After his strong start, he smiled when recalling a conversation he had with Courtney earlier this week about gaining a new outlook on his on-course results.
“I told her, ‘I’m either going to finish top three or bottom three based on my perspective,” he said. “But yeah, I won’t be getting too upset over bad shots this week.”