By Ken MacLeod
Looking back now, Robert Streb still isn’t sure whether to view his close call at the 2015 Greenbriar Classic as a lost opportunity, a validation of his ball striking or just one of those things.
It’s not often a pro golfer is forced to play the final nine holes without a putter, as Streb did when he tossed his putter a little too violently after leaving a 15-foot birdie putt short on the ninth hole Sunday.
"I had a 15-footer and left it short," he said. "I had just watched Jonathan Byrd leave a similar putt short, so I wasn’t happy with myself. But I was just tossing it to the bag and obviously created enough stress for the head to break off."
That he was able to take his 56-degree wedge and blade in four birdie putts and several crucial pars to earn a spot in a four-man playoff was a testament to his creativity, nerves and resourcefulness.
"After the putter broke, I was just trying to figure out how I could get it to the house without getting embarrassed," Streb said. "When I made the long birdie putt on 13, I was just kind of laughing about it. Mostly I was just trying to hit it as close as possible so I could make pars."
The only thing bothering him by Tuesday was the way he played the par-5 17th hole. With a chance to take the lead outright, he hit two great shots, then left his pitch short, blew the first putt eight feet past the hole and missed coming back. He promptly birdied the par-3 18th, but a birdie or par instead of a bogey on 17 might have led to his second PGA Tour victory of 2015 and would have made for one of the remarkable stories of any year in golf.
"I might have been thinking about things a little too much at that point," Streb said. "I hit a poor pitch and both putts were bad. But I came back with a nice birdie on 18."
Streb said he once played in a three-club event in college and tried putting with a 2-iron, but it did not work out well. He was surprised how well he was able to do by blading the wedge, as were those watching live and those reacting on social media.
"I got quite a few calls and texts and my Twitter handle blew up," he said. "People had a good time with it. I could hear during the tournament a lot of people wondering where my putter was. It was kind of weird, but I just had to go with it."
For those who have not been paying attention, the Edmond North and Kansas State graduate is quietly putting together one of the best seasons on the PGA Tour. The showing at Greenbriar was his fourth consecutive top 20 finish on the PGA Tour, excepting the U.S. Open run by the USGA – where he finished tied for 42nd. He will play in the John Deere Classic in Iowa this week before jetting Sunday to the Open Championship for his first trip to Europe and first taste of true links golf.
Streb has moved up to 60th in the world rankings and currently ranks seventh in the FedEx Cup standings (the top 20 are exempt into The Open). In the 2015 season, which began in the fall, he has seven top-10 finishes and 10 top-25s. He had never played in any major championship prior to 2015, and now has played in his first Masters (missed cut) and U.S. Open, with The Open Championship and the PGA looming ahead.
Playing in Iowa this week won’t give him much time to prepare for St. Andrews, but he’s looking forward to the experience.
"Playing in The Masters was really cool. Chambers Bay was totally different than anything I’ve experienced," Streb said. "St. Andrews I’m sure will be a different type of golf with different shots required. We’ll get over there late Sunday and get to work."