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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Golf

Streelman back to defend Valspar title


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PALM HARBOR — Kevin Streelman, in retrospect, has perspective.

It came from this past whirlwind calendar year.

After winning his first PGA Tour event, the 2013 Tampa Bay Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort, the 35-year-old former Duke golfer achieved several milestones.

Streelman appeared in his second Masters, reached a career-best 36th in the world golf rankings, posted his best finish in a major (tied for 12th at the PGA Championship), finished 13th in the FedEx Cup standings and recorded eight top-10 finishes.

On top of all of that, he and his wife, Courtney, welcomed his first child, Sophia, in December.

“There’s been some incredible life experiences,” Streelman said. “I’ve thought about coming back as the champion, driving up and getting the parking spot (for the winner), seeing your picture on the ticket. And it’s all a neat bonus for something I worked really hard to get.”

For Streelman, who will defend his title this week at the newly named Valspar Championship presented by BB&T, becoming a father easily trumps all the other accomplishments. It was frightening, though, because of his wife’s difficulty pregnancy.

Sophia Streelman wasn’t due until Feb. 3 but was born Dec. 26 through a planned C-section because Courtney developed a condition called cholestasis, a liver disease affecting one in 1,000 women. The condition is potentially fatal to the infant.

After the C-section, Sophia spent a week in an incubator, with wires and tubes hooked to monitors, as the Streelmans prayed and watched their tiny newborn daughter overcome every odd.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through,” said Streelman, who won last year’s tournament for his first victory in 153 starts. “It changed my life. She came out after a week, but seeing other parents who couldn’t touch their kids — it rips your heart out. I played so well last year, but this brought such perspective to my life because it was such an incredible blessing.

“Becoming a father, even the way it happened for me, really pumps (golf) down a notch on the importance factor, but it also frees you up to play golf and not worry if your abilities are bad.”

After earning a career-high $3.08 million last season — in the past, he worked as a part-time caddy at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Arizona while trying to make the Tour — he also considers it a blessing to have Courtney and Sophia in his corner this year at Innisbrook.

“We’re getting (Sophia) for her first big plane ride,” Streelman said with a laugh. “It’ll be nice to come back after the round and see them both. I wouldn’t want it any other way, but to have my girls with me in Tampa.”

The win at Innisbrook propelled Streelman’s career year, which also included a second-place finish at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and a third-place finish at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina. The win and subsequent success opened doors for him to play new tournaments, including the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf in Australia, where he finished eighth, and the WGC HSBC Champions in China.

Streelman has carried that success into 2014. Just days after Sophia was born, at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions featuring winners from the previous PGA season, Streelman shot a 275 (17 under) to finish third.

“I was able to give (eventual winner) Zach (Johnson) a run on Sunday, but Tampa Bay was a great run for me that all kind of started some great finishes into the summer. To be honest, its been a lot of fun.”

Streelman enters his sixth tournament of the season this week with a new perspective, but the same goals as when he joined the Tour in 2001.

“We do this for the win, to be in the hunt on Sunday, which is the best part — win, lose or draw,” Streelman said. “I’m feeling comfortable and confident entering events and my focus is strong as its ever been for a seven-year veteran.

“(Valspar), to me, was an upper echelon of tournaments I wanted to win. And I’m not saying I’m going to win a bunch of tournaments or majors, but to go out and play well every round — that’s always been the goal for me.”

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