We have a new star on the PGA Tour, thanks to a “super duper floperoo.” On the first playoff hole at the Bob Hope Classic, Jhonattan Vegas hit his second shot on the par 5, 18th hole right of the green, up against the grandstands. But that wasn’t the worst of it. He was in the moguls with a long carry to a pin tucked in the back of the green and with just twenty or so feet to work with. But how he got there is the real story.
Starting the fifth round with the lead, he birdied his first hole, eagled the par-5 6th, and birdied the 8th. Okay, good: 4-under par through 8 holes. And then he got stuck on par for the next nine holes. It was a drip here and a drab there, but the overriding cause of his back-nine malaise was that he got tight. You know, nerves?
And how would we know it was nerves? Because all of extraordinary play that got him to 24 under par at the beginning of the round and 28 under par by the middle of it, suddenly went away. Suddenly he was missing fairways. Inexplicably, he was missing greens. The only thing that saved him was extraordinary par saves down the stretch. He didn’t miss one must-make putt until he 3-putted for bogey on the 18th.
That put him in a 3-way playoff with Gary Woodland and come-from-behind, Bill Haas, last year’s winner. For Vegas, it was a breath of fresh air, a chance to relive the 18th hole, the first playoff hole…and he pumped his tee shot out into the perfect go-for-it zone, the only one of the three to hit the fairway.
Haas fanned his second shot into the runway apron to the green leaving him a tough shot to that tight, back pin. And then Woodland hit a really good shot that one-hopped just off the back of the green. Advantage, Woodland. Vegas had a plain-vanilla shot from a flat lie in the middle of the fairway just yards from the plaque commemorating David Duval’s approach shot in 1999 that led to an eagle-3 and a stunning 59 for the win. So maybe that plaque got him thinking about things again instead of just playing and that’s why he almost hit it into the grandstands…requiring the super duper floperoo shot.
Because his drop away from the stands put him on the back of the mogul with a significant uphill lie, the shot would require, according the on-course-commentator, Jerry Foltz, a super duper floperoo, a high-risk, high-floating shot that would come almost straight down once it cleared the greenside mogul…which it did and he almost made it. It hit the cup and rolled about four feet away. Haas made par from the apron while Woodland chunked his chip shot and made his putt for birdie. Haas was out…and Vegas made his putt for birdie.
Vegas pulled his tee shot on the second playoff hole into the water hazard; looked like game over. But Woodland pushed his second shot into the greenside bunker; a glimmer of hope. After his drop, Vegas hit a wonderful shot about twelve feet behind the hole. Woodland bladed his bunker shot across the green to the fringe, missed his putt…and Vegas made his for the win.
The thing about these two guys is that they are extremely talented players. But it is very hard to win on the PGA Tour. Vegas graduated from the Nationwide Tour after two years and this was his second tournament since he got his Tour card.
To understand the pressure these guys play under, you would have to have seen all the of the early rounds, all of the early holes of the final round. Both of these guys hit the ball prodigious distances and accurately. It was a sight to see. But in the early rounds and the early holes of the final round, there were always a lot more holes to go, a lot more holes to rectify any mistakes. It’s like when you have a lot of money in the bank, monthly expenses aren’t that big a deal. But once the balance starts dwindling, your mouth gets a little drier, you breathe a little faster and your heart beats a little faster every time you think about it.
So as the holes dwindle away and you feel yourself moving ever closer to the 18th hole and your goal of winning, you actually begin to move further away from your goal. Until you mature as a player, you begin to see those holes as obstacles rather than stepping stones. You begin to realize that you can’t make mistakes and you start playing carefully.
It invariably comes in one of two forms. It begins because you become afraid to release the club through impact. When you do it well, it feels like jumping into the old swimming hole, just that little cheap thrill. But when you get tight, your hands go dead, you hang onto the club and the ball goes right. And once that begins, you begin to force the release, the flow of the swing is constrained by the manipulation and the ball goes left. Suddenly, you stand over a shot and you’re not sure where it’s going.
So that’s why you have to stand over every shot with certainty about your talent and your attention on the only four things that matter: the target, the ball, the club and your body.
That’s what Vegas was finally able to do. He said he just kept telling himself that he still had a chance. When he finally bought into that, he relaxed and made one last, fully-released swing.
Congratulations, Jhonattan Vegas.