On the final hole of the Par 3 tournament at the Masters, Robert Streb stood on the fringe of the ninth green, cradling his 2-month-old daughter in his arms as the sun glistened off the water behind him.
Catherine Streb, who was born on Feb. 3, wore a white bucket hat that protected her from the beating sun and a small white jumper that resembled a caddie’s outfit. A few feet away, Streb’s wife, Maggie, wore her own white caddie’s outfit and looked out over a mass of fans that had gathered around Ike’s Pond, the picturesque body of water that dots the southeast corner of the par-3 course at Augusta National Golf Club.
It was Wednesday afternoon at the Masters, and all things considered, life was pretty good for Streb, a Kansas State graduate making his first appearance here amid the blooming azaleas and towering pine trees.
OK, life as a professional golfer is pretty good most weeks. But consider this: On Tuesday, Streb marked his 28th birthday with a nine-hole practice round on the back nine. Twenty-four hours later, he was celebrating with his baby daughter while playing a breezy nine holes in the Par 3 event — the laid-back Wednesday staple where celebrities, wives and kids step inside the white ropes and take their loops as caddies.
“I don’t think there’s a better present than being here,” said Streb’s father, David, who stood on a patch of grass just off the green.
For Streb, who makes his home in Shawnee, it’s about to get even better. On Thursday At 10:25 a.m. today, Streb will make his debut in a major when he steps to the first tee in a grouping with fellow Americans Ben Martin and Cameron Tringale.
Streb, a native of Edmond, Okla., certainly dreamed of this day and this week. How many kids have stood on a driving range and envisioned stepping to the first tee at Augusta? But for Streb, this week also serves as a reward for the best year of his professional career.
He enters the Masters ranked eighth in the FedEx Cup standings. He notched his first career PGA Tour victory in November at the McGladrey Classic in St. Simons Island, Ga. But he had never made his way into the field of a major. Obviously, he was ready for that to change.
“It’s always fun to get to the big ones and try and play against the best players,” Streb said. “Obviously, you have a bunch of them here.”
In this moment, Streb was standing under the massive oak tree that sits adjacent to Augusta National’s clubhouse. All around him, some of golf’s biggest names were finishing their practice rounds and heading toward the Par 3 tournament.
This is the Masters, of course, and Augusta’s mystique has a way of intimidating any new visitor. There’s a reason that no rookie has ever captured the green jacket. But if Streb is feeling any nerves this week, he certainly isn’t showing it.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Streb said. “A lot of family. Just a nice week.”
Not that any of this would surprise David Streb. The key word to describe his son, David says, is consistency. Streb’s rise from K-State standout to PGA Tour player is not a story of prodigious talent or one singular moment. To look at Streb is to see any 5-foot-10 kid from a Midwestern town. But for Streb, this is a story of incremental improvements, of getting a little better every day, year by year, tour by tour.
“I played good at the right time and got on a nice run,” Streb said.
That’s part of it, anyway. After Streb finished up at K-State in 2009, he headed out onto a development tour for aspiring pros. He made a promise to himself: He would give himself a few years to reach his goal. And he made a call to his dad: “I’m gonna give it a go.”
“You never know,” says David Streb, who worked for the department of transportation in Oklahoma while shuttling his two sons back and forth from the driving range. “The one thing I would say is that he’s always been very consistent, and he’s never jumped right to the very top. But he’s slowly climbed the ladder.”
Streb’s consistency is mirrored in his personality — quiet, reserved, very Midwestern. During his childhood in Edmond, Streb was also a solid travel hockey player, sharing a team with future Oklahoma and NFL quarterback Sam Bradford.
A kid from Oklahoma who is a standout at golf and hockey? It’s a seemingly odd combo, of course, and it sounds a little bit like the plot of “Happy Gilmore.”
But when the subject of his ice exploits comes up, Streb is quick to downplay his skills.
“I was obviously too small and too slow,” he said.
On the PGA Tour, where most pros make their home in a sunny climate, Streb cuts against the grain in other ways, residing in Shawnee during the offseason. The Kansas City area suits him just fine, he says.
He met his wife, Maggie, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East, during their years at K-State. And with so much family in the area, Kansas City made sense. In the offseason, he can sharpen his skills at Wolf Creek, where he occasionally runs into Tom Watson.
On Monday, Streb caught up with Watson on the range, Kansas City’s best pro golfer advising its next pro. They exchanged pleasantries, talked about the course, and Streb thought about his first Masters.
The course, he says, “suits his eye,” meaning there are plenty of holes that match up with his right-to-left ball flight. And after three days of practice, Streb is ready to give it a go.
His first days in Augusta were something out of a storybook. If the magic sticks around for the weekend, that would be fine with him.
“I couldn’t believe how many people were here on Monday,” Streb said. “It just shocked me. Usually on Monday at a tournament, there’s nobody. But being here, it’s amazing.”