Kevin Streelman leads inaugural Kodak Challenge
Of all the ways to make money on Tour, Kevin Streelman's near-certain $1 million bonanza at the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Classic this weekend will be unprecedented.
At 16-under for the year, Streelman leads the inaugural Kodak Challenge by two shots over Nathan Green, J.J. Henry and Bo Van Pelt.
"It'll be put to some good causes if we're so fortunate," Streelman said while relaxing with his wife, Courtney, in Orlando on Monday. "And we'll take care of family and friends. I treated myself at the end of last year to my dream car, a Porsche 911, black, convertible, tan interior. For us it'd be much more fun to help out both sets of parents, who are nearing retirement."
Here's how the Challenge works: One hole each week is designated as the Kodak hole, and players can take their best score on that hole for the week. It can be a par 3, par 4 or par 5, and it can be an easy hole or, in this week's case, a very hard one: the Magnolia Course's 485-yard, par-4 17th. To be eligible for the million bucks, the pros must play at least 18 of the holes, and their best 18 holes determine their scores.
Streelman, who got to 16 under despite playing only 19 of a possible 28 holes so far, is almost a lock to take home the money. Even if he doesn't make a birdie on 17 this week, one of the men at 14-under would have to make an eagle to tie. (A tie would be settled in a sudden-death playoff on the last Challenge hole.) If Streelman birdies, he's $1 million richer.
"If I birdie it, it's over," Streelman said. "That's the way I want it to happen."
He's already had a bit of luck, when the Viking Classic was scotched because of rain two weeks ago. The Kodak hole at Annandale Golf Club was going to be the 532-yard, par-5 18th — an eagle just waiting to happen for Green, Henry and Van Pelt (or Streelman).
Officials decided against designating two Kodak holes at the Disney, so the 2009 Challenge will be 29 holes instead of 30. Bullet dodged.
Streelman, who turned 31 last week, gives himself a "B" for the 2009 season, his second on Tour. He's made 18 cuts and earned nearly $1 million, but he's only recorded a pedestrian two top-10 finishes. One of them, a T3 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, may as well have been invisible, given that the tournament was played in Cancun at the same time as the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
But while Streelman admits he needs to improve his wedge play and putting, you can't fault his timing. He's been aware of his Kodak standing for months.
"For me, the eye-opening week was the John Deere in mid-July," he said. "I eagled the par-5 17th hole, hit a 3-wood to two feet and tapped it in. It was in the third round. That got me tied for the lead with Chris DiMarco. The next week was Milwaukee, and I birdied the par-5 18th and Chris didn't. I've been either in the lead or tied ever since."
If Streelman's example is any indication, one of the keys to the Kodak may be awareness without obsession. The Duke grad (2001, sociology) has kept plenty busy lately with off-course pursuits.
While it rained at the Viking in Mississippi, he visited his in-laws in Tuscaloosa, Ala., about two and a half hours away by car. He flew to Myrtle Beach to attend coach Alasdair Dyer's wedding last weekend.
And Streelman just launched a new business venture called Golf Like a PGA Tour Pro, an iPhone application. Having compiled more than 50 different on-course scenarios, he takes viewers through his solutions and demonstrates the shots in HD video.
Still, he said, it's been hard not to think about the bigger payday awaiting him Sunday. His parents, Dennis and Mary Lou, are flying into Orlando, as are his in-laws, Jeff and Marie Caples. His sister, Kristin, and her two daughters, 7 and 15, will be there, too.
"You try to not think about it as any different than any other hole," Streelman said of his plans for the 17th, which he birdied once last year. "But I'd be lying if I said I was totally successful at that."