The Masters finally tees off on Thursday, but Chicago’s best player – Kevin Streelman – won’t be there. Streelman had a great year and, in a normal season, would have been on the brink of qualifying when he held a No. 49 world ranking entering last week’s Houston Open.
In a normal year the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings the week before the Masters get into the field – but this, obviously, is no normal year. The pandemic caused that.
“I could have won the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup and I still wouldn’t be in this year’s Masters,’’ said Streelman, whose world ranking dropped to No. 51 after he missed the cut in Houston.
As far as this week’s 84th Masters was concerned, it didn’t matter how Streelman performed in Houston. The top 50 before the Masters was determined on March 17, the last ranking period before the Masters was originally scheduled on April 9-12. Streelman, coming off a year in which he finished No. 122, wasn’t inside the top 50 at that time. Neither were Daniel Berger, now No. 13 in the world; Viktor Hovland (23), Ryan Palmer (31) and Harris English (35). They won’t play at Augusta National this year either.
Streelman, who grew up in Wheaton, qualified for the Masters five times between 2011 and 2016 and survived the 36-hole cut in his last three appearances. His best finish was a tie for 12th in 2015.
The Masters had planned a field of 96 players but the original qualification standards were impacted after the pandemic shut down the PGA Tour for three months and forced many tournaments to be either canceled or rescheduled.
Winners of PGA Tour stops in the previous calendar year had been awarded Masters invites, but not this time. Berger and Hovland won tournaments after play resumed but that didn’t factor into Masters invitations. This week’s tournament, played seven months late, didn’t hold its popular par-3 contest and – like most PGA Tour events — won’t have spectators.
Streelman, though, has no regrets about having the week off.
“I feel blessed to have had a great year on the golf course,’’ he said. “At my age (42), I was just a few strokes off making it to the Tour Championship. That’s something I’m very proud of, and I came close (to winning) at Hartford and Pebble Beach. I worked very hard during the quarantine (March 13 to June 10) to stay in shape and keep my golf game sharp.’’
The Masters is still on his mind – but it’s the 2021 version and not this week’s. He can get in by finishing in the top 50 when the 2020 season ends on Dec. 6. After the Masters there’s two tournaments – next week’s RSM Classic at Sea Island, Ga. and December’s Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
“If I had had a nice week in Houston I might have shut it down for the year,’’ said Streelman, “but now I’ve got some unfinished business. I’m on the bubble for the next Masters. If I have a solid week in Sea Island I could shut it down then. If not I’ll play in Mexico.’’
If he’s in the top 50 after those two tournaments he’ll be in the 85th Masters next April.
“I hope to get my ranking into the low 40s or even into the 30s. That’d put me in good position for next year, too,’’ he said. “But if I don’t play well I’ve still had a great year.’’
Off the course Streelman was an active participant in helping the PGA Tour to become the first sports league to get back in action after the pandemic shutdown.
“I’m really proud of the way we worked together. We had calls every week of the quarantine. We talked to professional scientists, people smarter than us,’’ said Streelman. “We figured out a way to make it work, and we did it together as a team. This was really a shining moment for the tour.’’