Hopes are running high this week in Jackson, Missisippi, its capital. The Sanderson Farms Championship is being played at the Country Club of Jackson, a par 72, 7,354 yard track. It’s being played opposite the WGC-HSBC Champions in Beijing, China, in an effort to extend the reach of golf to a huge new population by assembling the best players in the world for an “almost-a-major” tournament (there are only four WGC events: Beijing; Tucson, now San Francisco; Miami at Doral and Toledo at Firestone).
The effect of this is that with the best players lured by an $8.5 million purse, a $1.53 million first place prize and 550 FedExCup points, opportunities abound in Jackson with a $4 million purse, a $.72 million winner’s check and 300 FedExCup points. But most of all, it’s a place to play and a chance to move up the food chain with a high finish, especially a win.
The leaders are David Toms and John Rollins at 10-under. Canadian, Nick Taylor is a Web.com grad at 8-under. And these three perfectly illustrate the dispirit positions of the 132 players in the field. Toms is in because he kept his card by finishing in the top-125 on the FedExCup points last year. Rollins is in in the last category: players who were once exempt but finished 150th and above in FedExCup points, many Past Champions of PGA Tour events. Taylor is in because he finished 37th on the 2014 Web.com Priority List.
Aside from Rollins (T1) in that last category, we have names like Padraig Harrington (T13), Tommy Gainey (MC), Kyle Stanley (MC: remember his redemptive win in Phoenix?), Dicky Pride (MC), Rod Pampling (T52), Y.E. Yang (MC), Tim Herron (MC), David Duval (MC), John Daly (T63), Lee Janzen (MC), Billy Mayfair (MC) and Steve Flesch (MC).
As for Rollins, the tournament could not have fit his needs better:
“Well, you know, my caddie on Wednesday just sort of made a suggestion of I’m swinging with a little less effort I feel like. I feel like I’m still putting enough effort behind it because I’m getting the ball out there far enough, but I don’t know if I fell into a trap of trying to hit the ball too far and just kind of got out of the rhythm of my swing and whatever. It’s hard to say.”
“But we just kind of tried to dial it back, kind of feel like an 80 percent mentality, and it’s really just kind of fed along back into my irons and everything. That’s been just the approach that we’ve taken off the tee, and when you see the ball going where you’re looking, that obviously breeds confidence, and you just kind of keep running with that, and that’s what’s happened.”
For those who haven’t seen glory in a while, didn’t again this week and can hear the clock ticking on their careers, it surely was disappointment. But the great thing about the game of golf is that great things are always just around the corner. If you’ve shot 67, 67 before, you know in your heart that you can do it again.
For players more secure in their careers like David Toms, it is another affirmation that he’s still got it and is within reach one more time of the brass ring:
“Well, just to have that opportunity, just to play well is what excites me. You never know, when you hang around on the leaderboard a little bit, every once in a while you’re able to get one, so that’s the plan is just to get there as much as I possibly can, and you never know when it’ll be my week.”
And look at the likes of Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open winner) and Boo Weekley (2013 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial winner) lurking at T6 just 4 shots back.
And then Nick Taylor representing the new blood that infuses itself into the Tour every year and sometimes finds its way to an improbable win. Players like Jordan Spieth (John Deere Classic) and Russel Henley (Sony Open in Hawaii). Or young players who finally made their breakthrough after a lot of hard work like this year’s Robert Streb who just won the McGladrey Classic and sits at T4 with all the confidence in the world.
These are the kinds of stories that make the PGA Tour one of the grandest stages in the world. And the reason that so many of us just can’t seem to look away.