‘Crazy dumb sport’: Tour veteran unloads on fear and retirement

Kevin Streelman is in contention at the RSM Classic.

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Kevin Streelman is 44 years old. He played his first PGA Tour event in 2003. And on Friday, in contention at the RSM Classic, he dished on a few of the things he’s learned in the two decades since.

Sometimes we associate youth with aggression and age with caution. Not so, says Streelman.

“You’ve got week by week here and you’ve just got to attack. That’s what I tell these kids,” he said. He was referring specifically to Joel Dahmen, also in the mix at the RSM, who had spoken earlier Friday about playing with fear. Streelman understands the fear but said the key to longevity on Tour is learning from that fear. Harnessing it. Staring it down.

“When you have a chance to do something great out here, you’ve got to go for it,” he said. “It’s tough at times because we play for a lot of money and there’s a lot of FedEx points and you’re like, maybe a second place, a third place isn’t that bad.”

Streelman cautions against that kind of too-safe thinking.

“I tell the kids like me, 420 events into my career, you don’t remember like the third places, the fifths. You remember the wins or you remember the losses and when you were in the hunt. That’s what we live for, that’s what we live for as athletes. I just encourage them when you’ve got a chance, you fricking go for it and see what happens and be OK with it at the end.”

It’s not always so easy, of course. The reason sports are interesting is because of the possibility of failure. Every athlete fears failure, and in golf there’s plenty of time to think. To doubt. To fear.

Streelman cited a lesson he got from his caddie in 2013 at the Tampa Bay (now Valspar) Championship. He held a two-shot lead on the 18th tee and wondered if he should lay back with 3- or 5-wood. His caddie A.J. Montecinos wasn’t having it.

“He looks at me — I hadn’t missed a fairway all day — and he goes, ‘You rip
that f— driver down the fairway.'”

Streelman stepped up, pummeled driver down the fairway, hit wedge to the green and won the tournament. Lesson learned.

“It’s a fine line between that confidence and fear. Sometimes we need help with it, sometimes it just comes,” Streelman added. “But you don’t tend to be playing weekends too long if you’re playing with too much fear.”

He credited that attitude with his lengthy tenure on Tour. It has been a lucrative tenure, too: Streelman ranks 69th on the PGA Tour’s career earnings list at just over $25 million. But he’s been wondering about the end of that career even as he fights against it. He knows he can’t keep up with the young bombers — he ranked 131st in driving distance last season — but still has plenty of game, too.

“I had a great talk with my wife, Courtney,” he said. “We had a date night a few weeks ago and I told her: if you’re ready for me to be home, let me know. I’m ready. She has tough times, all of our wives have tough times with our kids, an 8- and 6-year-old. I’m on the road, this next week we’re gone, my fourth week in a row gone. So I’m missing, Sophie has a 101 Dalmatians musical today and tomorrow that I’m missing, which is killing me. But she has to get her ready for that. She has to get Rhett to football. She has to be a mom.

“I said, if you need help, you’ve given up the last 20 years of your life for me and if you’re ready, I’m ready. She’s like nope, I want you to be out there, you’re still doing well. I said all right. While I’m out here, I’m going to do my best to be the best me I can be.”

Streelman’s best self was plenty good through two rounds at the RSM. He opened with 68 and then fired a second-round 64 in which he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation and made seven birdies. He recognized this as a beauty of golf. And he quoted philosopher Toby Keith.

“The great thing with our sport, you can still have like a magic week. It can happen,” he said. “It’s like, maybe not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was. It’s like the line.”

Other sports tell you when much more clearly. Streelman has plenty of exposure to those athletes, both where he plays alongside them at home in Scottsdale and in partnering with former Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald at Pebble Beach.

“I asked him the same question and he’s like, I knew. He knew. It’s like a very fine line. He lost a little bit of a step and wasn’t as fast as the younger guys and it was over. But it’s not quite that way with us. Unless some of us want it to be that way, I think, it’s just not because one magical putting week and ball-striking week can change everything. Then you go back to chasing it again after that. Crazy dumb sport golf is, at times.”

Crazy dumb sport. Streelman will keep chasing, hoping this is the week that can change everything. And if not this week, maybe the next one.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.