HONOLULU – Before golf becomes a game of skill, it sometimes begins as a game of chance.
This is even true at the PGA Tour level and you needn’t look any further than this week’s Sony Open. Robert Streb rolled the dice and earned the opportunity to play in the $5.6 million tournament, but only because Shawn Stefani chose not to take the chance and fly to Hawaii.
“I just figured I’d hang around and see if I got lucky – and I did,” said Streb, who earned his spot in the field, but only after his effort at a Monday qualifier failed. He then waited at Waialae CC for two full days until finally, around dinnertime Wednesday, Streb got the call that he was in, replacing Hideki Matsuyama (left wrist).
Streb, who shot even-par 70 in Thursday’s first round, said he was grateful his effort paid off, though he felt for Stefani, who was actually the first alternate, though not in attendance.
“Obviously it’s a lot of money and time to get out here, so if you don’t feel you don’t have a good chance, it’s perfectly understandable,” said Streb. “It’s a long way to come (just) for a Monday qualifier.”
Stefani, 32, said it’s just part of the landscape when you don’t have full status.
“When I got a call Wednesday night from (PGA Tour tournament official) Slugger White, I said, ‘I know why you’re calling, but I can’t play. I’m in Houston,’ “ said Stefani. “It’s just unfortunate.”
Stefani, who finished 135th in the FedEx Cup standings in 2013, is in the minor medical extension category and will have two starts in 2013-14 to earn $84,084 to improve his status. He said when he signed on for the Sony, he was sixth alternate, which left him with very little chance of getting in. Stefani chose to go on vacation and was taken by surprise to see that his status improved so that he was first alternate.
“We discussed what to do,” he said, “but I decided to stay on vacation.”
Streb was noteworthy in 2013 for having finished 126th in the FEC standings, a mere 10 points behind No. 125, Ben Crane. Agonizing, yes, and when he was forced into trying to improve his status via the Web.com Tour Finals, Streb came out with a priority ranking of 80th. (Stefani was 71st, thus was higher on the alternate list at the Sony.)
Still, Streb chose to roll the dice. “When I bought my (airline) ticket a week before (the entry deadline for Sony) closed, I was in (the tournament) by one or two (spots). Then a lot of guys signed up and I was out by five or six. I said, ‘OK, I’m out by a few, but I can go and at least practice. If I don’t make it, I can at least do the Monday qualifier.”
Streb shot 68 at Turtle Bay Monday, but it took 66 to get in. That meant he was resigned to the waiting game at Waialae CC and while the alternate list said he was No. 2, he knew Stefani had not come over and he was actually first.
But being first alternate is no guarantee at the Sony. “This one doesn’t have a lot of movement and I didn’t expect it to,” said Streb. “Guys are itching to play.”
Matsuyama’s withdrawal was a surprise, but one that Streb gratefully took advantage of. He knows that because of his priority category, his chances will be infrequent.
“At best, I’m hoping for 15 starts,” said Streb. “I’m hoping for San Diego (the Farmers Insurance Open in two weeks) and I should get in Pebble (the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Feb. 6-9).”
But after that? Like Stefani, Streb is in limbo.
“You’re at the mercy of who signs up and who doesn’t and withdraws,” said Stefani, who wasn’t going to dwell too much on his missed opportunity. He didn’t regret his decision not to buy a ticket and fly to Honolulu. He was a long shot to get in and long shots don’t often cash in out here.
Not a glamorous situation, but it comes with the territory and both players know it behooves them to simply play well when they do get the chance and to certainly be flexible.
“I’ll chase this (PGA Tour) thing (with Monday qualifiers),” said Streb. “It doesn’t go well, I might have to bounce back-and-forth (between PGA Tour and Web.com Tour) a little bit.”