Kevin Streelman was ready to abandon his hopes of playing on the PGA Tour, and even that didn’t go right.
After two years of plodding through the mini-tours, he noticed a job opening as the assistant golf coach at Duke, his alma mater. Streelman was one of two finalists for the position, and he even went to North Carolina to interview.
It went to the other guy.
And that’s when his fortunes started to change, thanks to a chance meeting 10 years ago with a Masters champion.
“I remember I got told Friday I didn’t get the job,” Streelman said. “My dad gave me $400 to play the qualifier for the Western Open, I made a long putt on the last hole to get in and on the next day I’m in the locker room. And Mike Weir’s locker is next to mine.”
He nervously asked Weir if they could play a practice round together. Weir showed him how to use the yardage book and all the other nuances of playing on the PGA Tour. Streelman missed the cut, but saw enough out of Weir to figure out where he needed to get better, and to realize his game really wasn’t as far off as he imagined.
“It really gave me that kick in the butt to say, ‘If you’re going to do this, you need to get serious about it,’” Streelman said.
That was but one stop on his long, arduous and amazing journey that culminated Sunday afternoon in the Tampa Bay Championship.
In his sixth year on the PGA Tour, and his 153rd tournament, Streelman broke through with a performance that made it look as though he had done this many times before.
On the tough Copperhead course at Innisbrook, he didn’t make a bogey over the final 37 holes. With the tournament up for grabs — Boo Weekley had a tournament-best 63 and was in the clubhouse at 8-under par — Streelman didn’t miss a shot over the last 11 holes.
The defining moment came at the par-3 13th, which played as the toughest hole in the final round, yielding only three birdies to the previous 75 players. It’s the kind of shot Streelman had practiced for so many hours on the range, and the numbers were right.
He had 187 yards to clear the bunker and 194 yards to the pin. His 5-iron goes 200 yards, and there was a slight breeze in his face. A cut 5-iron would be ideal, assuming he could hit it properly.
“We worked really hard on that shot, with the idea and vision of being able to pull it off on Sunday,” Streelman said. “I can sit there all day and do it on Tuesday and Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean much if you can’t do it on Sunday. So that’s where I was aiming.”
The ball settled 6 feet away, the closest of anyone in the final round.
Until Sunday, the biggest tournament Streelman won might have been the club championship at Whisper Rock.
The victory sends Streelman to the Masters next month for the second time in his career.
LPGA: Stacy Lewis won the LPGA Founders Cup to jump to No. 1 in the world, taking advantage of Ai Miyazato’s collapse on the 16th hole.
A day after Lewis was penalized two strokes for her caddie’s blunder on the short par 4, the American took a two-stroke lead with a birdie on the hole after Miyazato made a double bogey following an errant approach shot that left her with an unplayable lie in a desert bush.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: David Frost won the Toshiba Classic, shooting a 65 to defeat Fred Couples by five strokes and tie the tournament record of 19-under 194 set by Jay Haas in 2007.
Frost joined 2011 winner Nick Price as the only golfers to lead the event wire to wire in its 19-year history. It was his fourth career Champions Tour victory and first since last year’s AT&T Championship in San Antonio.
Couples, the 2010 champion, began the day a stroke behind Frost and tied him with a birdie on the first hole.
That was the last time Frost would relinquish the lead. He birdied the second and third holes to build a two-shot advantage and his lead never went lower than one the rest of the round.
AVANTHA MASTERS: Thomas Aiken of South Africa clinched the second European Tour title of his career, winning the Avantha Masters after shooting a 5-under 67 to finish at 23-under 265 in Greater Noida, India.
Aiken led overnight and had three birdies on the front nine and two more on his way back to maintain a three-shot lead over the chasing pack.
India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar rallied for a 64 that included three birdies on his last five holes to finish second after starting the final round six strokes behind Aiken.
THAILAND OPEN: Prayad Marksaeng shot a final-round 64 for a 24-under-par total of 264 to win the Thailand Open by two strokes over Scott Strange of Australia.
The 47-year-old Thai, who was runner-up here in 2011, trailed Lucas Lee of Brazil by three strokes at the start of the day, but sank nine birdies against just one bogey. Strange had a 67 in the final round of the Japan Tour event.