PALM HARBOR, Fla. — The uphill climb to the 18th green at Innisbrook was nothing compared with the journey that brought Kevin Streelman his first PGA Tour victory.
He burned up three cars driving some 400,000 miles across the country playing the mini-tours. He used to clean clubs during the week and caddie on the weekends.
His biggest claim on tour was winning $1 million from a bonus competition called the Kodak Challenge. His last win was five years ago in the club championship at Whisper Rock.
Streelman won the Tampa Bay Championship on Sunday in his 153rd start on the PGA Tour.
The way he played this weekend on the tough Copperhead course — particularly the back nine — made it look as if he had done this many times before.
“Always had a dream of getting here,” Streelman said. “And so to get this is the culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of time spent late into the evening, and getting up early in the morning. And it’s really a dream come true.”
Streelman took the lead for good with a 5-iron into 6 feet on the par-3 13th, the toughest at Innisbrook on the final day, for a birdie.
“Probably the best shot of my life in that situation,” Streelman said. “It’s just how I envisioned it and I pulled it off.”
He played with so much peace and precision that his target on the daunting tee shot at the 16th hole was a group of four trees. He aimed between the second and third tree. And he met his final challenge with a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th hole, leading to a 4-under 67.
Streelman didn’t make a bogey over the last 37 holes. He didn’t miss a shot the last 11 holes.
“Hopefully, we can do it again,” Streelman said. “This is a lot of fun.”