Leapfrogging

The second round of the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, is in the books and there was a huge move in the Top 25. Daniel Chopra shot a stunning 10-under par 62 to move from T30 to 1st on the leaderboard (I should hope so!), but that wasn’t his most important move.

His most important move was moving from number 24 in the Top 25 to number 5. So from here, his heavy lifting is done. All he has to do is keep pace with the field over the next two days and not only does he get his PGA Tour card back (he’s a two-time winner on the PGA Tour), but at number 5, he’ll begin with high status and get a lot of starts at the beginning of the season. It’s everybody’s dream.

There were only two players outside the Top 25 who are in for now. Brett Wetterich moved from a just-outside 26 to a just-inside 24. The former Ryder Cup member (2006) has had a tough couple of years with cascading injuries (shoulder, wrist) that led to a major medical extension for 2009. To give you a sense of just how devastating a golf injury can be, Wetterich is not some piker: he hit the two longest drives of the year on the PGA Tour in 2007, 437 yards and 435 yards.

In another very fluid situation, Darron Stiles is the other player who moved into the Top 25: from 30th to right on the bubble at 25th. He’s been working at staying on the PGA Tour since he won his first card for the 2003 season by finishing ninth on the Nationwide Tour in 2002. This is a guy who’s been up and down and back and forth and here he is still trying to get back up again. This is a serious man.

The two guys who fell out of the Top 25 are James Nitties, the Aussie tattoo man from the “Big Break: Mesquite” a couple of years back, who made it to the Tour and is now trying to play his way back.

The other player is Billy Hurley III, a graduate of the Naval Academy who served on destroyers and cruisers in the Persian Gulf, Mayport (Jacksonville), Florida and Pearl Harbor. A man after my own heart since I spent three years on a destroyer out of Mayport. He’s a good enough player that he made the 2005 Walker Cup Team. His military service fulfilled he’s now working on taking his talent as far as he can. Well, Roger Staubach did it. David Robinson did it. And listening to Hurley’s post-round interviews, it sounds for all the world like he can do it too. What a solid citizen.

There were two other really good rounds. Number 6, Danny Lee shot a 7-under 65. Funny how great you can play when you know you’re a lock to win a Tour card. And number 53, Greg Owen, shot a 6-under 66. But he’s going to need two more good ones to move up the leaderboard, into the Top 25 and win his Tour card back again.

The Nationwide Tour is full of good stories about tenacity in pursuit of playing excellence. As they all know, it’s not just about the ball striking and the putting, it’s about who you “be” while you’re working on it. It’s a process and they’ve all endured another year of it.

But as close as they are, I can’t imagine that they’d want to be doing anything else.

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