Kevin Streelman is 44 years old. He played his first PGA Tour event in 2003. And on Friday, as he competed at the RSM Classic, he shared some of the things he’s learned in the two decades since.
Sometimes we associate youth with aggression and old 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 the RSM, who spoke about playing with fear the previous Friday. Streelman understands the fear but said the key to longevity on the tour is learning from that fear. use it stared down at it.
“If you have a chance out here to do something great, you have to do it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s tough because we’re playing for a lot of money and there’s a lot of FedEx points and you think maybe second place, third place isn’t so bad.”
Streelman warns against this kind of overconfident thinking.
“I tell kids like me, 420 events in my career, you don’t remember third places, fifth. You remember the victories or you remember the losses and when you were on the hunt. That’s what we live for, that’s what we live for as athletes. I just encourage them if you get a chance, do it the fuck and see what happens and be okay with it in the end.”
Of course it’s not always that easy. The reason sports are interesting is because of the possibility of failure. Every athlete is afraid of failure, and golf leaves a lot of time for reflection. Doubt. To fear.
Streelman cited a lesson he received from his caddy at the 2013 championship in Tampa Bay (now Valspar). On the 18th tee, he had a two-shot lead and was debating whether to sit back with 3-wood or 5-wood. His caddy AJ Montecinos didn’t have it.
“He looks at me – I hadn’t missed a fairway all day – and says, ‘You rip
that f-driver down the fairway.’”
Streelman stepped forward, slammed the driver down the fairway, hit the wedge onto the green, and won the tournament. Lesson learned.
“It’s a fine line between confidence and fear. Sometimes we need help with that, sometimes it just comes,” added Streelman. “But you don’t tend to gamble too long weekends if you gamble with too much anxiety.”
He attributed this attitude to his long tenure on the tour. It was also a lucrative tenure: Streelman ranks 69th on the PGA Tour’s career earnings list with just over $25 million. But he’s wondered about the end of that career, despite fighting it. He knows he can’t keep up with the young bombers – he finished 131st in driving distance last season – but he still has plenty of play left.
“I had a great chat with my wife, Courtney,” he said. “We went on a date a few weeks ago and I said to her, ‘If you’re ready for me to come home, let me know. I’m done. She’s having a tough time, all of our wives are having a tough time with our children, an 8 year old and a 6 year old. I’m on my way, next week we’re gone, my fourth week in a row over. So I’m missed, Sophie has one 101 Dalmatians Musical today and tomorrow that i miss whats killing me. But she has to prepare for that. She needs to get Rhett to football. She must be a mother.
“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. She says no, I want you out there, you’re still fine. I said fine. While I’m out here, I will do my best to be the best that I can be.”
Streelman’s best self was very good in two rounds at the RSM. He opened with 68 and then fired a 64 in the second round, hitting 17 of 18 greens with practice and making seven birdies. He recognized this as a beauty of golf. And he quoted the philosopher Toby Keith.
“The great thing about our sport is that you can still have such a magical week. That can happen,” he said. “It’s like, maybe not as good as I used to be, but I’m as good as I’ve ever been. It’s like the line.”
Other sports tell you if much clearer. Streelman has a lot to do with these athletes, both where he plays 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 says: I would know. He knew. It’s like a very fine line. He lost a bit of a step and wasn’t as fast as the younger guys and it was over. But it’s not quite like that with us. Unless some of us want it that way, I guess it’s just not because one magic putting week and one ball strike week can change everything. Then you go back after that to hunt it down. Crazy sport golf is sometimes.”
Crazy stupid sport. Streelman will keep chasing and hoping this is the week that can change everything. And if not this week, then maybe the next.