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Len Ziehm On Golf

Winning Masters’ Par-3 contest was a just reward for Streelman

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman won the traditional Par-3 Contest that precedes the Masters tournament on Wednesday. That’s not necessarily a good thing, because players consider winning the Par-3 a bad omen. No Par-3 winner has ever gone on to win the Masters.

In Streelman’s case, though, things might turn out differently. He didn’t take his participation in the Par-3 lightly.

His thought process started in December of 2013. That’s when Streelman and wife Courtney were expecting their first child. Daughter Sophia was born more than a month early after Courtney underwent a difficult, worrisome pregnancy.

“That changed a lot of the ways I see children,’’ Streelman told ESPN.com. “I have an entirely new appreciation for what parents with children having tough times are going through.’’

The Par-3 is a fun event, and players frequently use family members or friends as their caddies. Streelman’s father was on his bag in in his first Par-3 experience in 2012. His mother got the call in 2013 and his father-in-law last year.

Still moved by Sophia’s struggles at birth Streelman contacted the Make-A-Wish Foundation after securing another Masters berth by virtue of his win in the PGA Tour’s tournament in Hartford, Ct., last year. He asked if any of its patients wanted to attend the Masters and Ethan Couch, the 13-year-old son of a former golf professional in Canada, was anxious to have the opportunity.

Couch was diagnosed with a brain tumor that’s benign, but inoperable, two years ago. How it will affect the rest of his life is uncertain. He’ll undergo an MRI next week.

With Ethan carrying his bag Streelman went around the nine-hole short course at Augusta National in 5-under-par, which left him in a tie with Camilo Villegas for the top spot. They went to a sudden death playoff, which Streelman won on the third extra hole to make Couch’s day all the more special.

“I just wanted to open the door to someone, and hopefully give him a great day after going through some rough times,’’ said Streelman. “This isn’t about me. It’s about giving back. It’s about using that opportunity that I have to make someone’s wish come true.’’

Streelman, 36, was born in Winfield, developed his golf skills primarily at Cantigny in Wheaton, graduated from Wheaton-Warrenville South High School in 1997 and Duke University 2001. He has two wins since earning his PGA Tour card in 2008.

Though he lost to Streelman in the playoff, the day was special for Villegas as well. He made two holes-in-one in his first eight holes of the Par-3 competition. Six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, now 75, also made a hole-in-one. He’s been playing at Augusta National since the 1960s but never had an ace there until Wednesday, and he somewhat predicted it in a television interview before his round.