By Dan Reardon
It’s unusual to characterize a 29-year-old with a PGA Tour win under his belt as an emerging talent. How can you be an up-and-comer when you have shared the overnight lead at a major? When you are one of 30 players in history who have authored a major-best round of 63, how can you be considered on the doorstep rather than through the door?
But like so many players who have occupied this space over the weeks, Robert Streb has mostly been arriving. He has not arrived. Streb is occasionally in the conversation, but never when the week is done. His only Tour win came, somewhat anonymously, in October when the NFL and the SEC are occupying eyeballs online and on TV.
In his fourth full season on Tour, Streb is teetering between career and career journeyman, and his 2016 season to date has been the later. His last five opening rounds before the PGA Championship were 68 – 76 – 69 – 74 – 78, and he punctuated his manic run with 68 – 63 the first two days at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
Streb’s first passion in sports was hockey in that hotbed of the sport, Chickasha, Oklahoma. He shared ice time as a youngster with Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. But it was another offspring who transitioned him from sticks to clubs. Kevin Tway, son of former PGA Champion Bob Tway, introduced him to Pete Dye’s Oak Tree Country Club, site of the 1988 PGA Championship, and Streb’s athletic allegiance switched.
Recruited by Kansas State, Streb became the first Wildcat to qualify for the NCAA Championship since Jim Colbert, and that happened his freshman year. As a collegian, he showed the ability to contend with 12 top-five finishes. All-American mention in his senior year was enough to push him into the professional ranks and start a three-year climb to the Web.Com Tour.
A win and a T3 there in 2012 fast-tracked him onto the PGA Tour in 2013. In each of his first three years with the best players in the world, he improved his standing, qualifying for the FedEx series in both 2014 and 2015. That ’15 season also featured a playoff win at McGladery early in the wraparound schedule.
Despite that top-20 FedEx rank at the end of ‘15, Streb has taken serious steps backward in year number four. If nine missed cuts aren’t concerning enough, only one top 20 in 23 starts prior to Baltusrol has to be.
“I just struggled with my expectations a little bit. Kind of thought I would keep it going, and it’s been tough. Probably learned the hard way, you’ve got to start over again. But you know, the ball-striking and the putting has been a little difficult this year, and I’ve just been trying to hang on by a thread.”
No top 10s after nine the previous year has meant an attitude adjustment. “It’s hard. Luckily I had that win to kind of lean back on for next year, but it was getting pretty aggravating. Trying to do my best to stay positive and put the frustration aside, which sometimes isn’t the easiest thing to do. Augusta was kind of disappointing. My start at Oakmont was kind of frustrating, too. So it’s just been, I guess, struggling with my own expectations and playing poorly at the same time; it’s been a little tough.”
What effect Baltusrol has on that tough going will require an early answer. Playing effectively for 36 holes in the lead group with winner Jimmy Walker on Sunday should boost Streb’s sagging confidence. An 8-under total placed him tied for seventh.
Not quite a bubble boy for the FedEx series, and assured of status in 2017 by virtue of his win in the Carolinas, Streb needs to turn his poor rounds into just disappointing rounds. Nine times this year he has hung up 18s of 75 or higher.
A golf career can be a little like climbing a mountain. You establish a basecamp and then find plateaus along the climb from which to move higher. At this point in his golf career, Robert Streb is looking for a crag to get a foothold and climb to the next level. Perhaps last Sunday was that point.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.