Last week gave us a glimpse of what golfers might be missing thanks to the PGA Tour’s revamped schedule. It would have marked the 30th anniversary of — at least arguably – of the greatest U.S. Open among the 13 played on Chicago courses. Hale Irwin, who got into the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah via special exemption from the U.S. Golf Association, went on to become the first golfer to win the championship in a sudden death playoff. The drama was unforgettable.
Irwin, who won the first of his three U.S. Opens at New York’s Winged Foot, will have to wait to get his just historical due. It’ll come when the Open is played in September.
Fast forward to this week the PGA Tour stops in Hartford, Ct., for the Travelers Championship. It’s the first tournament on the revised schedule, created since the pandemic hit, that will be played in its original spot on the calendar. It’s had its share of drama, too – more, in fact, than most tour stops.
Hartford has produced some of the most spectacular scoring in PGA Tour history, and Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is part of it. In 2014 Streelman won for the last time on the PGA Tour – and he did it with one of the most impressive performances ever. Streelman birdied the last seven holes en route to a 28 on the back nine, and that led to a one-stroke win over Sergio Garcia and K.J. Choi in the Travelers.
Streelman is in the Travelers field again, and in need for a solid showing. He missed the 36-hole cut in both tournament played since the circuit resumed play after a three-month break caused by pandemic concerns. He’s on a string of three straight missed cuts going back before the stoppage in play but did have a runner-up finish at Pebble Beach back in February.
Milestone scoring isn’t unusual at Hartford. Prior to Streelman’s sizzling finish six years ago the TPC River Highlands course was the site of the lowest round ever shot by an amateur on the PGA Tour – a 60 by Patrick Cantlay in 2011.
After Streelman had his big day Hartford was in the spotlight again for Jim Furyk’s 58 – the lowest 18-hole round in PGA Tour history — in 2016. Whether there’s more magic in Hartford, in another tournament played without spectators, remains to be seen and a proper look back at Irwin’s illustrious career may have been missed last week but it’ll come eventually.
The U.S. Open was to be played June 18-21 at Winged Foot course, and last Sunday would have marked 30 years since Irwin beat Mike Donald in the historic playoff at Medinah. That was Irwin’s third win in the U.S. Open, a victory that helped lead to his earning the label of golf’s “Mr. Chicago.’’ He also won the Western Open at Butler National in 1975 and captured the Ameritech Senior Open, a Champions Tour event played on Chicago courses, in 1995, 1998 and 1999.
“I don’t know what it was – the people, the courses, the culture – but Chicago always felt warm and fuzzy to me,’’ said Irwin during a stop last week in St. Louis. He has a home there, but spends most of his time at another residence in the Phoenix area.
While Streelman is struggling to find his game since the pandemic started Irwin isn’t sure he’ll even play again. Now 75, Irwin appeared in three Champions Tour events before the pandemic hit and his play wasn’t impressive.
“The reality is, if you’re spending more than you’re making, that’s a bad formula,’’ he said. “Four-five years ago I took retirement, which means you can start dipping into (his PGA) retirement fund. That also means you can play only 11 events. My game isn’t what it once was. Whether I’ll play again I just don’t know.’’
Irwin’s feats at least will be recognized eventually. He’s working with former USGA staffer Pete Kowalski on a project called Keeler1930. Scheduled to launch later this year, it will provide personal looks at various golf legends of the past.