KAPALUA, Hawaii - Seven weeks after securing a long-pursued initial PGA Tour victory with the calm precision of a safecracker, Kevin Streelman stealthily put himself in position to win another. And it was a big one, the Players, the tour's flagship event offering the largest purse. And he was dreading it.
Streelman, after an impeccable 67, signed his scorecard as the clubhouse leader. But he didn't want to be in the clubhouse or in the lead because it meant that he couldn't vacate the premises at TPC Sawgrass. He had to wait and see how Tiger Woods would negotiate the few perilous water-laden holes of the Stadium Course, which meant he would miss his flight home to Scottsdale, Ariz.
He couldn't miss that flight.
That flight meant he was going to keep a promise to his wife, Courtney, to be back in time to accompany her to her doctor's appointment at 7 the following morning. That appointment was going to change his life much more than the $1.71 million first prize and the five-year exemption and the prestige and the countless virtual and actual pats on the back a man can receive in this digital age.
He called Courtney. He couldn't leave. She understood. She was proud of him. But the last thing she said to him was, "We can't miss that appointment."
Streelman begins to tell this story as he rests in the clubhouse Thursday afternoon at Kapalua Resort on the eve of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. His hair is matted with sweat after completing the pro-am that his team won by two strokes despite the fact that Streelman's familiarity with the Plantation Course had been limited to a quick nine holes the day before. He had waited until New Year's Day to fly to Maui, the last of the 30 players in the field to arrive.
He'll begin his first round at noon HST today with Bill Haas.
"This is definitely the dream trip of any professional golfer's career, in my opinion," said Streelman, 35, who qualified for the winner's-only tournament by capturing the Tampa Bay Championship. "It's awesome, and it means a lot because of what it represents, the work I've put in and the steps I've made to be a better player."
Streelman would have come sooner - and in a previous life would have wanted to come sooner - were it not for his newest love, Sophia Marie.
Five pounds and one ounce, Sophia was born to Kevin and Courtney, on Dec. 26 by planned C-section after a difficult and worrisome pregnancy. Courtney had been on nearly constant bed rest because of a condition called cholestasis, a liver disease that affects one in 1,000 women. During pregnancy, cholestasis causes bile produced by the liver to build up in the gall bladder. It's potentially fatal to the infant if too much bile spills into the bloodstream.
Sophia wasn't due until Feb. 3, but a bi-weekly blood test revealed that Courtney's blood toxicity level was becoming dangerous to the infant. "If we wait one day too long, it's something we could have regretted the rest of our lives," Streelman said. "Courtney and I talked about it, and we prayed about it, and we decided if this was really the time, then let's do it. The baby was healthy enough.
"Still, I was petrified."
That feeling didn't dissipate until a few seconds after the doctors removed tiny Sophia from Courtney's abdomen. "The neatest thing ... when they do a C-section you hope the baby cries, that its lungs are fully developed, and she was quiet for just a few seconds," Streelman said, his mouth forming into a grin. Then he smiles widely. "And then she let out this huge, huge roar of a scream. And then she started crying. Greatest cry I've ever heard in my life."
Chances to win are rare for most tour players. It took Streelman 153 starts before he broke through last March in Palm Harbor, Fla. Displaying previously elusive proficiency, Streelman traversed his final 36 holes on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort without a bogey and beat Boo Weekley by two strokes.
Still, winning also takes luck. It takes timing.
Tiger Woods ended up making par on the last two holes at TPC Sawgrass and secured his second Players title. Streelman tied for second. But he'd missed the last commercial flight home. Courtney's words were ringing in his ears:
We can't miss that appointment.
Streelman, who burned through three cars while playing mini tours after graduating from Duke University in 2001, chartered a flight home, a first for an admittedly frugal man, even one who would go on to earn a career-high $3.08 million.
At 7 a.m., sharp, Kevin and Courtney, who had been trying to conceive a child for several years, walked into their doctor's office. Punctuality is crucial for couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization. "You only have about a two-hour window with the procedure," Streelman advised.
It takes timing. It takes luck. And after a harrowing pregnancy and its attendant anxiety, the Streelmans had Sophia Marie. And Kevin, who had begun his journey to golf's promised land on the Dakotas Tour, who had grinded and sweated and poured himself into his passion, who said in Tampa that his win was "a dream come true," gained a better understanding of what it means to feel fulfilled.
As soon as the last putt drops on Monday, he'll rush back to Scottsdale. His next start on tour, other than the home game at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, won't come until his family can travel with him.
"That week in Tampa, the golf was great. Winning was great. I played great for a weekend. It meant a lot to me," Streelman said. "It showed me that I was making progress on my game. It was a reward for the work I've put in. But it felt fleeting, as well. You go to the next tournament, and you are last week's news. If you just live for that fleeting moment, then your life is going to be pretty empty."
That's not to say he wouldn't want that feeling again.
"It's what I do, and you want to be the best you can be," he said.
"But nothing else could ever compare to holding my daughter. That is the ultimate experience. That's a memory that I will hold onto forever."
(Getty Images photo)