Nick Taylor: The new blood wins at Sanderson Farms

At the 36-hole mark of the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi, David Toms and John Rollins were tied at 10-under and rookie Nick Taylor was two strokes back at 8-under. In “Opposite Field Events: Hopes for glory, future and past,” I wrote that the three of them were perfect representatives of the categories of players who get into opposite field tournaments: Toms, the veteran who hadn’t won in two years and was looking for another notch on his belt; Rollins, a tested Tour veteran who lost his card and was playing in the Past Champions category trying to get it back; and Taylor, a rookie off the Web.com Tour trying to raise his status in the reshuffles by piling up winnings. Here’s the paragraph on Taylor from that post:

“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.”

Well, the improbable happened; Taylor won the Sanderson Farms Championship by two strokes over Jason Bohn and Boo Weekley. 

He did it by hitting 9 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens and taking only 27 putts in the final round. He one-putted 10 of his first 16 holes. And the other way he did it was by having a fearless presence as he was coming down the home stretch. Rather than carefully plodding his way in, his final tee shots and approach shots all had in common that there was absolutely no reticence or caution. Did he hit smart shots away from some pins? Yes, but they were all free-flowing without a hitch, a glitch or hiccup.

Interestingly, he was just playing and the fact that he won took him by surprise. This wasn’t supposed to happen so soon:

“Yeah, it’s a weird feeling for sure.  It’s something, you know going into the day, I felt good about my game. But until it happened, you didn’t really expect it or kind of know ‑‑ it’s very surreal.”

“I putted unbelievable today.  Putted great the first two days.  Yesterday, struggled a bit, but worked on it last night.  And the putts seemed to drop my way.”

“I had a few good bounces today.  And everything just kind of came together today.  I tried to — I just needed to do what I was doing and stay out of my own way.  It was a great day.”

He had a very interesting way of describing this idea of staying out of his own way; he described it as not being there. It came up in the context of whether he ever had a better day with the putter:

“Probably not.  The last round of Web.com finals at Sawgrass, it was one of those days where I wasn’t there, I think I had 7 or 8 birdies.  Everything I looked at I was making.  That round was for 17, this was for 16 here.”

“So I was kind of looking back on that round as well, but, yeah, today was definitely a day that I’ve never really had in a final round in that situation, for sure.”

So this doesn’t happen by accident. How did he get it going and what was he thinking about on the back nine?

“I knew I was playing well.  I wanted to get off to a good start and I did.  Birdied the first hole.  Made a good putt and got the confidence going. And the second hole I actually made a really good par putt from five or six feet to kind of keep that going”

“From there, I wanted to hit as many greens as possible, because I felt like I was rolling it really well.”

And here’s another instance of a player who didn’t bother setting any goals, he just played as good as he could on every shot:

“I didn’t really have a goal, I thought if ‑‑ I wanted to at least get to 14-under.  I knew I would have to shoot under par to beat everyone.  So once I had it going on, I wanted to keep making as many birdies as possible until the last hole.”

“I knew that the leaders were still at 14 and I knew that once I was hitting the par putt on 18 [which he missed, but it didn’t matter; it forced the leaders to hole out to tie him], just lining it up there.  If it went in, great, just a tap in for bogey and force them to hole out on 18.”

When something like this happens, when it’s over the first thing the mind runs to is a quick inventory of your personal feelings and thoughts. And the next thing your mind turns to is family:

“Unbelievable.  I called my wife and she’s in tears.  She doesn’t know what’s going on.  I don’t really know what’s going on either.  She’s going to be in tomorrow.  We’re going to Mexico together [for the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, 40 miles down the coast from Cancun].”

“It’s very exciting.  I didn’t expect it this early, obviously.  I always had the belief that I could win.  It really sets up the rest of the year with the fast start.  And it’s very surreal, yeah, for sure.”

Because this was an opposite field event, he doesn’t get into the Masters as most wins would have, but he has a two-year exemption on top of this year’s and he gets into the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui [plus the Sony Open in Honolulu as long as he’s there], the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, the Players Championship and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

“Obviously, yeah, it certainly opens doors for many possibilities that I wouldn’t have had with a top‑10 or whatever.  It helps my status this early in the year.”

“So now, being able to pick a schedule and kind of pick where I want to play, and kind of know where I want to play, and obviously, now, with over the two year exemption, it’s, it’s very surreal.”

“Obviously, starting the year, just trying to get as high up in the reshuffle and play as many events as possible and you know, to take advantage of this is pretty amazing.”

Keep working hard and dreams come true. And, speaking from experience, when they don’t, you end up where you are supposed to be. Trust me.

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