Chappell breaks through on his 180th try
April 23, 2017
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Kevin Chappell celebrates his birdie putt from 8 feet, 2 inches on the 18th green for his first PGA TOUR win. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The first time happened six years ago, ironically enough at the Valero Texas Open. Kevin Chappell finished solo second, a late bogey costing him a chance to force a playoff against Brendan Steele.
Oh well, thought Chappell. It was just the ninth start of his rookie season on the PGA TOUR. Plenty more opportunities would come. Winning would happen soon enough. He took it for granted.
“That was the worst attitude I could have had,” he acknowledged.
Indeed. Chappell kept putting himself in position but each time fell short. He posted a couple of third-place finishes the remainder of that 2011 season, including at the U.S. Open. A runner-up in 2013 at Jack’s place, Muirfield Village. Then last season, four more runner-ups, including THE PLAYERS Championship and a playoff loss at The TOUR Championship.
By the time he arrived at TPC San Antonio this week, he was 0 for 179 in his TOUR career. What had been a formality now threatened to be a burden. It was, he would say, a monstrous monkey on his back.
So you can imagine the emotions Chappell felt Sunday as he rolled in a birdie putt from 8 feet, 2 inches on the 18th green for his first win. There was joy. There was relief. There was satisfaction. On his 180th start, he finally fulfilled that promise of six years ago.
“I felt like I had some unfinished business here,” Chappell said. “… A lot of hard work went into this, and I don’t think I would have had it any other way.
“Those people that know me [know] I do everything the hard way – and 180 starts later, that’s pretty hard.”
Through those six years, though, Chappell never lost faith in his game. Sure, there were times of discouragement when he didn’t play well. But perhaps more telling, Chappell admits he didn’t do a good job of enjoying the near-misses. Instead, he dwelled too much on the outcome.
The TOUR Championship last year was especially painful, said Chappell’s caddie Joe Greiner. Chappell led by two shots with two holes to play, but suffered a bogey and was caught by Rory McIlroy and Ryan Moore. He was then eliminated with a par on the first playoff hole, with McIlroy eventually beating Moore three holes later.
“It was the last tournament of the year and he had played so well,” Greiner said. “He was there. It just didn’t work out. But last year was huge for him. He played so well under pressure.
“Today, his composure was great. He played awesome. He deserved every second of that win.”
Celebrating his win on the 18th green Sunday was his wife Elizabeth, and their two young kids, Wyatt and Collins. Having a family offers the kind of perspective Chappell didn’t have six years ago when he came so close at the Valero. Golf has a different priority now.
Kevin Chappell interview after winning Valero
Elizabeth never bought into the storyline that the close calls had become a burden for her husband.
“I think that was sort of a stigmatism that everyone kind of put on him,” she said while watching Kevin pose with post-victory photo shoot. “I think he’s come into his own and has been playing phenomenal golf the last year. That wasn’t necessarily the truth – but it was still around.”
On Sunday, he was determined to put an end to it. He made an early statement with two quick birdies and he bounced back from his first bogey with another birdie two holes later. At one point, Kevin Tway joined him atop the leaderboard before falling back with a double bogey. Then hard-charging Brooks Koepka also grabbed a share of the lead a couple of times.
But Chappell stayed steady. He and Greiner had pinpointed 12 under as the target number. Chappell got there with a birdie at the 14th, but fell under it again with a bogey on the next hole.
Still, no panic. He knew there were birdie opportunities down the stretch. He just had to convert one of them.
Kevin Chappell holes an 8-footer to win Valero
When Chappell reached the teebox at the drivable par-4 17th, he needed a bathroom break. But then something flashed in his memory.
Six years ago at TPC San Antonio, Chappell arrived at the 17th in the final round tied for the lead with Steele. Chappell took a bathroom break before playing the hole. By the time he putted out at 17, he had suffered the crippling bogey that took him out of contention.
Afterward, Chappell said, "I'll be honest -- I think I just fell asleep."
Facing the same situation again, Chappell took a different approach. No falling asleep. And no bathroom break this time.
“Wasn’t gonna do that today,” he said with a grin.
After a par at 17, Chappell took two shots to set himself up for an 89-yard pitch shot. A half-hour earlier, Koepka had the same shot, and he converted it for birdie. Now Koepka was warming up on the range, hoping for a playoff if Chappell couldn’t do the same thing.
But this wasn’t like the first 179 starts of Chappell’s career. Even Koepka, though it was at his own expense, was happy to see Chappell break through.
“You look at all the stuff he’s done, it’s pretty impressive,” said Koepka, who won in just his 22nd start on TOUR. “It’s kind of amazing that he hasn’t won, how good he’s played.”
But no longer do we have to mention the ones that got away from Chappell. Now we can focus on the one he did capture – and speculate on how many more to come.
“I don’t have to answer that question anymore,” Chappell said. “Feel like I have a base to kind of jump off from with my career moving forward.”
In other words, don’t expect him to wait 180 more starts before his next win.
Kevin Chappell captures his breakout win at Valero