This is this week’s face of elite golf on the PGA Tour and, unless you follow the PGA Tour fairly closely, you probably never heard of him.
He’s Mark Wilson, all 5′ 8″ and 145 pounds of him. He won the Humana Challenge on the PGA West Palmer Private course in La Quinta, California, on Sunday. But it was no fluke. Last year he won the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Waste Management Phoenix Open early in the season too. Humana is his fifth career win.
He started his day at 5:15 in the morning and was at La Quinta Country Club at 6:00 to finish Saturday’s round. Teeing off at 7:30, he only had three holes to play. He made three solid pars to finish the round at 5-under and 21-under for the tournament. Then he went back to his in-laws’ house to help his wife get the kids ready for Tour Day Care. And at 12:10 he was teeing off with Robert Garrigus and Zach Johnson to see who was going to win the thing.
Now this was not some insignificant, perfunctory act: Garrigus, one of the Tour’s longest players, shot 11-under on Saturday and Zach Johnson, one of the Tour’s steadiest performers over time shot 7-under. And they were both just three strokes back. And Wilson didn’t start out a house afire; he bogeyed the third hole and came off the front at 1-over par.
Johnson had an up-and-down day that ended up at just 1-under, not the result you need in the desert on Sunday. Garrigus, on the other hand, was not just sitting idly by; he made three birdies against one bogey on the front and turned at 2-under. With Wilson’s bogey, tie ball game.
And then Garrigus birdied 10 to take the lead. Maybe that woke Wilson out of his doldrums; he birdied 11 and 12 to take the lead back.
The day went not as planned, really. I guess it really never does. But last time I came out here, I shot 62, so of course I had those images in mind and made a bad swing on the third hole, and then just kind of felt like I hit a lot of good shots. The pins were in some tough spots, so I was really patient. And then birdieing 11, I played that hole really smart. And then holing the bunker shot on 12 really gave me the momentum to go in the right direction.
But Garrigus wasn’t done; he birdied 14 to get back into a tie. Wilson answered back with a birdie on 16 and Garrigus called with one of his own. Still tied.
I don’t look at the leaderboards really, and I just happened to glance on 17 to see what was going on… But I reminded myself that I’m in position. You have a lot of thoughts go through your head, Am I going to come out and play well and win or am I going to come out and play flat and finish 10th or am I going to have a horrible day and finish close to the bottom? You just don’t know.
I just tried to clear my head of that and said, ‘This is what we play for, let’s enjoy the day. Win or lose, let’s try to be a good example out there.’
And 17 is where the worm finally turned in Wilson’s favor: Garrigus bogeyed the par-3. So when Wilson birdied the par-5 18th and Garrigus 3-putted after reaching with a 5-iron, Wilson’s 2-stroke victory was locked up.
He stood in the breach all day long with mercurial thoughts flashing through his head, but finally realized that he was in the position he wanted to be in, coming down the stretch with a chance to win. That’s all, just a chance. Instead of recoiling from it, he embraced it. “This is what I play for, this is exactly what I want,” he told himself.
That’s how you control your nerves. That’s how you win PGA Tour golf tournaments. That’s how you become the face of elite golf on the PGA Tour.
Last week’s winner at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Johnson Wagner is on a roll. It is a truism on the Tour that you have to make hay while the sun shines. He shot a flawless 7-under in the final round to finish T2 with Garrigus.
John Mallinger did the same thing after shooting a flawless 6-under. This after an abysmal year last year and missing the cut last week. You just always have to keep playing from the belief that things will turn around for you.
Jeff Maggert learned that lesson this week too. With a chance to win last week, he crashed and burned with a 74 in the final round and limped out of town with a T13. This week he put together a final round 8-under 64 and locked up 5th by himself. If you stay in the flow, redemption can be just around the corner.