Paying Forward

A vote made 34 years ago has come full circle.

As I start a new chapter in my life with Golf Illustrated, in each issue I’m going to write about the PGA Tour; stories that some would consider “inside the ropes.” Or you might consider them out of bounds.Ron Streck

Either way, I hope you enjoy them.      

My name may or may not mean anything to you mainly depending on your age and how closely you follow the game. By way of introduction, here’s a quick recap.

I’m a native of the beautiful city of Tulsa, Okla., where I still reside with my wife and sons. I played for the University of Tulsa – college roommate of Hank Haney -- and turned professional in 1976. In the 36 years since, my career has taken me all over the world from Kagoshima, Japan, to Robot, Morocco, and all over the United States. My most notable achievement was winning at least one tournament on every tour in which I competed. I was fortunate enough to prevail at least once on the PGA Tour, Nationwide Tour and Champions Tour while also winning late-season invitational events on the Japanese Tour and European Tour for good measure.

Being the first to win on the three major U.S. Tours as well as the first player to hit metalwoods in competition and to win with metalwoods (1981 Houston Open), some have dubbed me The Milestone Man.

For a long time, I had another record, the lowest 36 holes to close out an event on the PGA Tour when I shot 63-62 in the 1978 San Antonio Texas Open to win that event by a single shot.

In 1978, during my second year on the PGA Tour, I attended a players’ only meeting during the Houston Open. Commissioner Deane Beman asked if we would support a split tour or would we rather put money towards a Senior Tour. More than 90 percent of the players voted for the Senior Tour.

I was 24 at the time, thinking, I’m voting for something 26 years away. Wow. I’m 57 now and that meeting doesn’t seem so long ago.

I remember the discussion and vision for the Senior Tour being about taking care of our long-time members of the Tour and creating a place for competition and income in the eve of careers. In the beginning it was hard to get enough players to fill the fields. Not the case anymore. When Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and others came out and supported the Tour, it became popular. It was a new place to compete for competitive warriors on a more level playing field.

Hale Irwin has been by far the best on the Senior Tour, winning 45 tournaments, and he is still playing though he’ll be 67 in June. Hale was pleasant enough but a real assassin on the course.

There’s a lot more camaraderie and small talk on the Champions Tour. Guys will smile, say hello, and ask how you’re doing and where you’re staying. Yet there are still guys who privately wish you would shoot 80 each round and couldn’t care less if you’re staying on the back porch at the Ratview Inn.

Golf is a humbling sport for even the greatest to have ever played. It develops character in a person that carries through life. Players are taught the rules at a very young age. You call penalties on yourself even when no one is watching. You count all your shots even if it moves on you while your club is grounded.

We don’t see baseball players turning around to the umpire and saying, “I think that was a strike, you called it a ball.” Or a football player telling the referee he was holding on that play. In basketball, a player runs over a guy and the official has to determine whether it’s a charging foul or blocking foul, then the announcers argue about it. In golf, you can try to fudge on the rules, but it won’t get you very far.

Another difference in golf from most other sports: no guarantees. You are paid for how you perform, not how someone thinks you will perform.

How much you are paid has certainly changed.

I spoke with Arnold for this issue and he told me that in 1960 he won the Canadian Open, and first place was $2,000. Now you have to earn nearly $1 million just to keep your card as one of the top 125. Hard to fathom, but hey, who’s counting?

This will be a fun column and I’d love to hear from you. Send me feedback or tell me what you want to hear about from The Tour. I came along when some of the greats were getting older, Nicklaus was in his prime, Tom Watson was just becoming one of the great players, and guys like Snead were playing every once in a while. I played with Sam at Quad Cities the first two rounds; he was 66 years old and shot 66 in the first round. I’ll always remember seeing the gleam in his eyes that day.

The milestone man Ron Streck