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Len Ziehm On Golf

Recent changes have spurred Streelman’s fast start in PGA Tour season

Kevin Streelman won’t declare his hot start to the 2017-18 PGA Tour season as the best in his 11 years on the circuit but all the major changes he made over the last few months are certainly paying off.

With top-10 finishes in the last two tournaments — the RBC Heritage Classic in Hilton Head, S.C., and the Valero Texas Open – Chicago’s top pro golfer boosted his season winnings over $1.2 million and has career number over $16 million.

He’s now ranked No. 38 in the FedEx Cup standings, third on the circuit in greens in regulation and fourth in scrambling. While Streelman had early season wins in 20013 (Tampa Bay) and 2014 (Hartford), his trademark for this campaign has been consistency. He’s made the cut in 14 of 15 tournaments with three top-10s. He also did have a win, of sorts.

Streelman teamed with Larry Fitzgerald to win the pro-am portion of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Both are members at Whisper Rock, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Fitzgerald, a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, and Streelman also finished second in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am 2017.

The pairing with Fitzgerald was one of the few things that Streelman ITAL didn’t END ITAL change since the PGA’s wrap-around 2017-18 season began last October. Since then he’s changed his swing instructor, his caddie and his agent.

All that stayed the same were his two longstanding Chicago affiliations. He continues to play out of Black Sheep, the all-male club in Sugar Grove that made him an honorary member long before his golf career blossomed, and he still uses Wilson clubs. He started his affiliation with Wilson in 2011 and the company re-signed him for two more years last fall.

Though he had already established himself as a solid PGA Streelman had no reservations about making major changes in his team. Australian Andrew Getson is his new swing instructor, veteran caddie Frank Wlliams is now on his bag and Jeff Koski of Lagardere Sports is his agent.

“After 10 years fresh starts were needed,’’ said Streelman.

Getson and Koski are both based in Scottsdale, where Streelman lives with his wife Courtney and their two children, Sophia 4 and Rhett 2. He also has a new training base in Scottsdale, Premier Fitness.

Both Getson and Koski have worked with Phil Mickelson. On the caddie front Streelman ended a five-year relationship with A.J. Montecinos to hire Williams, who is in his 31st year working on the PGA Tour. He’s previously carried for Curtis Strange, Davis Love III and Hunter Mahan and was on the bag for Stewart Cink when he won the 2009 British Open.

The fitness change might be the most significant. Premier Fitness focuses on flexibility training.

“For someone in my stage of his career that’s been just terrific,’’ said Streelman. “I feel more flexible than I ever have, and I’ve never had a serious injury in my 11 years on the PGA Tour and 17 as a professional. That’s very unusual.’’

Streelman says the only aches he gets are in his shoulder and upper back, when he carries his children through airports. With both children still not of school age the Streelmans continue to travel as a family from tournament to tournament.

“We can probably do it one more year,’’ said Streelman. “It gets chaotic sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.’’

Streelman first developed as a golfer in Wheaton — in youth programs at Arrowhead and Cantigny and as a caddie at Chicago Golf Club. He also played high school golf at Wheaton South before heading to Duke for college. Through it all Streelman hasn’t forgotten his Chicago roots. Working with the Illinois Junior Golf Association, he’ll host a special day on July 9 at Cantigny during the week of the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop.

“We did this in 2009 and had almost 400 there,’’ said Streelman. “We’re hoping this one will be bigger and better.’’

Streelman is taking this week off while the PGA Tour holds a two-man team event in New Orleans. He’ll be in four May tournaments – the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina, The Players in Florida, the Fort Worth Invitational (formerly Colonial) in Texas and the Memorial in Ohio. Unless he wins one of those he’ll conclude the stretch at U.S. Open sectional qualifying in Columbus, Ohio.

Last year, feeling exhausted, he skipped the qualifier and didn’t play in the Open proper at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills. This year the finals are at Shinnecock Hills, the New York course that’s rich in golf history. Streelman badly wants to be in the field there.

Here and there

Bernhard Langer won’t defend his title in next month’s Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Michigan. He’ll attend his son’s high school graduation in Florida instead.

Defending champion Illinois will bid for its ninth title in 10 years at the Big Ten men’s tournament beginning Friday at Baltimore Country Club. The Illini face a strong challenge this time, as Purdue edged them for the title in last week’s Kepler Invitational in Ohio.

The Illinois women’s team tied for second at their Big Ten championships last week in Mainsville, Ohio. Coach Renee Slone’s Illini were 7-under-par, tying the school record for one round, in the last round of that event and the runner-up finish was Illinois’ best since 1976. Northwestern, runner-up in last year’s NCAA finals, was two strokes behind the Illini.