WHY WE COMPETE Money
Going for the Green
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Kevin Streelman arrived, as always, by car. He placed his golf clubs in the trunk of his Toyota Camry parked outside his condo in Scottsdale, Ariz., wasted two hours in Phoenix's rush hour and then drove 300 miles northwest to Las Vegas. He stopped only once, for gas. Streelman already had logged almost 6,000 driving miles in May alone -- from South Carolina to Pennsylvania to Illinois to California.
Bob Kahan arrived, as always, by private jet. He drove up to the runway at a small airport in Santa Rosa, Calif., and handed his car keys to a valet. Kahan and three friends climbed aboard his $15 million Dassault Falcon, furnished with 13 leather seats and a burled wood interior. They sipped bottled water and read newspapers. The flight to Las Vegas lasted 55 minutes.
At 8 a.m. two days later, Kahan and Streelman met for breakfast at a table overlooking the 18th green at the Reflection Bay Golf Club. Streelman, a struggling 28-year-old professional golfer, brought his mother, Mary Lou, and his fiancee. Kahan, an insatiable sports fan and gambler, brought his business partners.
Kahan and Streelman had been drawn together in Las Vegas by their twin passions. They both loved to compete. They both craved money. Strangers two days earlier, they would spend the next two weeks united in pursuit of a goal: to turn a $50,000 entry fee into $2 million by winning the Ultimate Game, a new golf tournament open to all players who don't regularly compete on the PGA Tour, second-tier Nationwide Tour or the Champions Tour.
Kahan, a 60-year-old retired Wall Street equities trader, had spent the last decade jet-setting with powerful athletes and gambling on their performances. When he heard about the Ultimate Game, whose motto is "all you need is game, guts, and a $50,000 entry fee," Kahan launched into exhaustive Internet research for a player he could sponsor. A 40-handicap golfer, Kahan studied the results from small professional tournaments and talked to friends in the golf industry. Finally, early this year, he cold-called Streelman and offered a plan. Kahan would assemble a group of investors to pay Streelman's entry fee. Streelman would outplay 39 other golfers and win the tournament. The two men would split $2 million and Streelman would resume his pursuit of the PGA Tour with both his confidence and his bank account fortified.
"Just relax and have fun," Kahan told Streelman over breakfast, minutes before the golfer's first-round tee time last Tuesday. "It's not life and death out there."
"I know," Streelman said. "It's just a round of golf. That's what I keep telling myself."
The Ultimate Game, co-created by casino mogul Steve Wynn, attracted dozens of golfers like Streelman. Most had spent their professional lives toiling on minor league tours or working as club professionals. They viewed the Ultimate Game as a chance at career panacea: One good tournament could undo a lifetime of mediocre finishes and bad breaks.
Streelman knew he needed that kind of reversal. Soon. Six years out of Duke, he was one of the world's great golfers -- except not quite good enough to join the 100 or so regular players on the PGA Tour. He was always one stroke, or one bounce, or one bad tournament short. Yet he felt so close to a breakthrough that he had been compelled into an exhausting chase.
He had climbed through the minor leagues of professional golf without ever pocketing more than $30,000 in a year. By progressing, Streelman had further delayed the question he dreaded most: At what point would he pack up his golf clubs and give up this dream?