We Are The Champions…Of The World! So go the lyrics to Queen’s power ballad that has become a fixture at championship stadium celebrations.
The final round of the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, is over and we finally know who the 25 guys are who will be moving on to the PGA Tour next year. And, even if it is golf, I’m sure that Queen’s piece evokes the feelings that every one of them must be feeling now.
They are led by J.J. Killeen who came in No. 1 and left in the same place. The same for the next five guys, Ted Potter, Jr., Mathew Goggin, Jason Kokrak, Jonas Blixt and Danny Lee whom the Golf Channel guys opined might have the most raw talent in the field.
There wasn’t a great deal of suspense with these guys because they played so well all year long, they had a solid money cushion on their pursuers. In fact, in the tournament, they finished T38, T12, T18, T5, T8 and T8 respectively. That’s the way it should have worked out: you want to crown a Tour champion, but you’re really more interested in rewarding steady play all year long. Championship golf is littered with one-hit wonders while the PGA Tour is all about being able to hold your own while your explore just how good you can get at the game while playing with the best in the game.
Only one player who was outside of the Top 25 coming in managed to play his way in. That was PGA Tour veteran, Ken Duke, who won the tournament and shot up from 36th to 7th. His was the biggest move by far among the 60 players in the field, and as he said after yesterday’s round, he did it with patience. Patience to take in everything about a coming shot. Patience to see the kind of shot that would work. Patience to hone in on it and then courage to pull the trigger. Patience not to be thinking about how well he was doing and what that would mean. Patience to wait on the heavy winds to try minimize their changing gusts and directions.
The other big mover was Scott Brown who came in 21st and rose to 8th. Finishing 2nd in the tournament will do that for you.
The feel-good story of the year continues with double heart transplant recipient, Eric Compton, finishing one better than he came in, 13th. He has the advantage of knowing what it’s like to live every moment like it might be your last. He finished T18 in the tournament.
Another good story is right behind him in John Mallinger. A five-year veteran of the PGA Tour, Mallinger won his Tour card the hard way, finishing T13 at Q-School after apprenticing on the Nationwide for two years. He had three hot years right from the start making $1.7, $1.2 and $1.7 million. But in 2010, his winnings fell by over a million dollars. In 2011 it was worse making only $179,000 in 15 events. When it became clear to him that he was going to lose his card, he swallowed his pride and dropped down to the Nationwide Tour in hopes of playing his way into the Top 25 to earn his card back that way. In just nine tournaments, he made enough to get to 11th on the money list and with his T38 in the tournament, he finished 14th and he’s back on the Tour again. And clearly with a resuscitated game.
As I highlighted in Friday’s post about the second round, Daniel Chopra, had a huge day shooting 10-under, 62. It was a good thing because he shot 77 in the blustery third round and just managed to break par with a 71 Sunday. That got him a T3 in the tournament and moved him up from 24th to 19th. Afterward, in his post-round interview with Stephanie Sparks, he tried to describe his state of mind prior to the fourth round. He couldn’t quite get his mind around what it was, but that he wasn’t nervous. He struggled to find words and finally settle on “agitated.” “I was very agitated and I’ve never felt like that before.” Fortunately he managed to settle himself down; that 71 was a very good score in Sunday’s wind.
I am sure that there are tons of other good stories about persistence, commitment, tenacity, patience and all the other positive characteristics of people who finally achieve their goals. And perhaps I’ll be watching these graduates a little more closely as they embark on their exciting year.
But my hands-down favorite story line was former Navy Lieutenant Billy Hurley III. As I said in Friday’s post about the second round, he was a man after my own heart since I too served on a destroyer homeported out of Mayport, Florida. Hurley had a pretty good tournament finishing T18, but with last minute ups and downs on the scoreboard from other players, he managed to come in 25th and graduate to the Tour in 25th.
Because of the brutal conditions on Saturday and to a lesser degree on Sunday, we will never be able to know what might have been in terms of how low each player might have gone.
But you would have to argue that since 25 of them moved on and not just a handful, they are probably an excellent sampling of the best players in the field.
So we’ll be watching, men. Play well, play free and congratulations. This is one of the grandest accomplishments for any professional golfer and you can be very proud of yourselves.