Kevin Streelman had what anybody would call a mediocre start in Sunday’s final round in the Travelers Championship at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell (Hartford), Connecticut. On a day when you need to be moving forward to keep up with the bulls, he was two over through 7 and getting smoked.
But as Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
Streelman wouldn’t know it at the time, but the genie was about to come out of the bottle. He made a ten-footer for birdie on the 9th…and then he one-putted every hole the rest of the way in. He birdied the 12th…and then he birdied every hole the rest of the way in, seven in a row for those of you keeping score at home. And oh, yeah, he shot 28 on the back.
That was good enough to get him to 15-under and a one-stroke victory over Sergio Garcia and K.J. Choi. It was his second PGA Tour win, the first coming at the 2013 Tampa Bay Championship.
So the great thing about the media sessions is that you catch the players when their experience is fresh in their minds; there’s an immediacy to their comments. And Streelman had some great stuff to say, beginning with that he wasn’t thinking about much.
“I wasn’t thinking about much. Yeah, I made a great putt at 9 to finally make a birdie. I kind of had a tough start, couple ugly bogeys early, and then actually made incredible saves at 10 and 11 in order to kind of keep the momentum going. And then just starting at 12 I kind of found the fairway there and stuck one right at the pin and it was kind of off to the races from there. I got 10 one‑putts in a row and that’s something I definitely haven’t done before. And coming off four missed cuts in a row I wasn’t really expecting too much this week, but I just had really good perspective, and it just kind of came to fruition today.”
And he also shared about just how high his awareness was: he started thinking about something else on the 12th, caught himself in the act and settle right back into the moment:
“I hit a good shot in there and I stepped up, and I just wasn’t concentrating that well. I was thinking about — we’re going off to Flagstaff next week in Arizona and doing some fishing and I was thinking about pulling in some rainbow trout, and I said, I better focus on what I gotta do here, and backed in and buried it.”
There is a very vibrant Bible study group out on Tour that helps the players to make sense of the ebb and flow of their lives in spiritual terms. It helps to keep them grounded. And after four missed cuts, Streelman was looking for some perspective:
“Honestly, had the greatest study Tuesday night. We do a Bible study out here. And Ben Crane kind of spoke to me for a while, and just helped put things in perspective real quickly in my life. And I just said perspective was really clear and clean this week and I was doing it [playing] for the right purpose.”
You may recall that Crane had his own perspective epiphany which led to his comeback victory in Memphis two weeks ago that I chronicled here: “Ben Crane: Inside the Mind of a PGA Tour Winner.”
Streelman talked about his incredible putting day. You don’t set out to have that kind of improbable day, it just sort of comes upon you and somewhere in the stream of consciousness it dawns on you:
“The putter was feeling great today, and you know, you can’t plan for something like that to happen. It just kind of falls into place, and I knew when that putt fell on 16 that kind of something special was happening. And to finish it off with two more was something I’ll never forget.”
When he walked off the 18th green, the whole of it finally hit him and he was able to recount what it was like in some pretty fine detail:
“I just kind of was like, wow, it’s over, I guess. I guess when you’re in the zone like that, when athletes talk about being in the zone, everything is really slow, and it’s really clear and concise, and it’s very vivid. And the lines are easy to see. The hole seems to appear bigger. It’s something we just wish we could be in every week, but to be honest, it kind of clicked on that ninth green when I started just seeing the lines very clear.”
“It’s almost to a point it doesn’t matter how you read the putts because you just know they’re going in before you hit them. That definitely kind of was there on the back 9 for a while today.”
For someone as finely trained as he is in getting to that altered state, he says that it happens a couple of times a year:
“It happens a few times a year I’d say. And people talk — you know, there’s books written and people see it, and psychologists talk about it, how to do it as easily as possible. But as professional athletes it can kind of come and go at times, but it’s a combination of calmness, confidence, I think resting, trust.”
“And I think it just inner training can come out naturally. Sometimes we try and force our training to come out, force a score or force a birdie and it doesn’t happen, but when we just relax and just let it happen, I think that’s when kind of greatness can come out.”
For some more insight on being in the zone, see the second post of the illustrious four-year history of this blog, “About This Zone Thing,” where I talk about the “core” of the zone.