Kevin Streelman on Winning The Travelers, His Biggest Splurge and More

Kevin Streelman celebrates with fans after walking off the 18th green during the final round of the Travelers Championship.
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You reeled off seven consecutive birdies to win the Travelers Championship in June. What moment from that day stands out?

Definitely the putt I made on No. 16. It was from about 37 feet, and when it fell in the back side of the cup, I knew something special was happening. The shot I was most proud of was the tee shot on No. 17. I hit a really nice cut and gave myself a wedge into the green that I stuffed, and then I made that putt.

You set the new Tour record for consecutive closing birdies by a winner. What does it feel like to be in that kind of zone?

Everything becomes more vivid. The lines on the green become clearer, and the grass almost appears more green. The hole looks bigger. You enter a different place mentally where you just know the putts are going to go in. And you feel free. Sometimes you try to force a birdie, but when you can relax, you just let it happen. It was fun, and it was easy. I knew some of those last putts were going in before I hit them. That doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's the reason we play the game.

It took 153 starts for you to get your first Tour win last year, in Tampa. You said that you've been working smarter. What does that mean?

It means not just going to the range and throwing down two buckets just to say you hit two buckets of balls. It's about picking exact targets and trying to hit shots and distances, which I don't think we do too often [on the range]. It's hitting putts that have meaning to them, whether you're playing a practice game with yourself or against your competitor or your caddie. It's trying to make your practice golf as much like real golf as possible. People make their practice easy and their golf hard. If you make your practice harder, you'll make your golf easy.

You're 35. It seems whenever a guy over 30 wins for the first time, he's labeled a journeyman. How much do you hate being called a journeyman?

[Laughs] I view it as a compliment because I spent seven years on the mini-tours before getting my Tour card, and now this is my seventh year out here on Tour. It just shows that the "journeyman" in me has had a really hard work ethic. A lot of people told me I wasn't good enough, and that just inspired me to work that much harder.

After graduating from Duke, you turned pro in 2001. What was your backup plan if your golf career didn't pan out?

I was hoping golf would be my only option, but I had a tough start as a professional. I got my butt kicked pretty quickly. I guess I was probably having a little too much fun as a 23-, 24-year-old, and you could say I didn't have my head on straight — until I lost all my money, was dead broke, and my sponsors abandoned me.

What was the low point?

It was just before [my sponsors left]. I went for the assistant golf coach job at Duke. It came down to two of us, and I didn't get the job. I was still living in my parents' basement in Chicago. My dad gave me the $400 to try to Monday qualify for the [2003] Western Open, and I made this 18-foot snake to get into the tournament. If I hadn't sunk that, I don't know what would have happened. But when you're scratching from the bottom, you put up or shut up.

It sounds like the Western Open was a real turning point for you.

Yeah, that week I played with Mike Weir in a practice round. He'd just won the Masters, and even though I missed the cut by a lot, I watched Mike, and I thought, This guy is really, really good, but I can hang with him if I work on the right things. It hit me: I could do this. Then I put the work in.

Now that you've gone from dead broke to career earnings of more than $11 million, what's been your biggest splurge?

I'm a car guy. I bought a Nissan 350Z when I got through Q-School — you got $25,000 for getting through Q-School, and a little money from sponsors for signing up. I was so excited. I'd just gotten engaged to [wife] Courtney. So I bought the 350Z, I pull in the driveway, and Courtney starts crying. She thought I was spending all our money before we had it! [Laughs] We've always been frugal. The nicest splurge for us is private flights. Spending more time at home with Courtney and our nine-month-old Sophia is an investment that I'm willing to pay extra dollars for.

Kevin Streelman: Three Things I Know for Sure

Work hard, but enjoy yourself, too.

In my 20s, the last thing my dad said to me before I left his driveway to hit the mini-tours was, "Don't let anyone outwork you. Enjoy the journey." And I've really tried to stick to that. What's worked for me is just having a ton of fun, enjoying the process, trusting the work I've put in, and letting the results take care of themselves.

Swing at 40 percent to hit every fairway.

On No. 18 at the Travelers, I knew I would block my tee shot if I swung too hard—I had so much adrenaline and excitement in my body. So the only way for that ball to start in front of me and stay in front of me was for me to swing smoothly at 40 percent. The distance will take care of itself. The bigger and more important the shot, the easier you need to swing.

There's no more enjoyable walk than a round at Cypress Point.

If I could play one, and only one, course for the rest of my life? I'd have to go with Cypress Point. The raw beauty and mystique of those magical holes is something I've never experienced anywhere else. Some days it's calm and beautiful. Then all of a sudden, some windy, stormy weather comes in and it can be the hardest test you could ever imagine. To me, that's the sign of a brilliant golf course.