True Finals drama unfolds on exciting Sunday at Dye's Valley
September 29, 2013
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- Getty Images
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Andrew Loupe wasn’t sure he should believe the news, even if it was one of his best friends telling him.
After grinding out a tough par to finish Sunday’s round at the Web.com Tour Championship, Loupe was intercepted by former LSU teammate John Peterson before he could make it off the 18th green.
Loupe had secured his PGA TOUR card. The widening eyes captured everything about his reaction.
“You sure?” Loupe finally asked. “You sure, man?”
“Yeah, you’re the last one in,” Peterson said. Not only that, but Loupe’s tie for sixth essentially completed a golf rendering of a Hail Mary – going from $0 on the Web.com Tour Finals money list to grabbing one of the final cards available.
No more than 15 minutes later, it was Peterson’s turn to agonize.
The former NCAA champion’s card was secured a month ago with the first of what was to become four top-5 Finals finishes. But with Chesson Hadley on the verge of winning the tournament, what Hadley’s playing competitors did at No.18 would determine who finished No.1 in Finals earnings.
If both Scott Gardiner and Joe Durant parred the final hole, Peterson would capture the money title. A birdie by either, though, would rearrange the second-place payout so that Hadley leapfrogged to the top.
Peterson leaned hard on his golf bag, refreshing the scores on his cell phone while waiting for the result to post. A Golf Channel cameraman relayed that neither birdied, but he wasn’t convinced.
When another reporter confirmed the result, the 24-year-old pro gave a loud high-five to his agent and fervently began hugging his family.
“That was the most nervous I’ve been all day,” said Peterson, whose reward was a fully exempt card and guaranteed berth in THE PLAYERS Championship. “I had no control, you know. No control. I just don’t know what to say.”
In the final tally, Peterson and Hadley were separated by a mere $567.
“He told me he’d pay me for it,” Peterson joked.
Hadley, seated nearby, quipped: “I will. Eighty grand.”
In other words, the approximate difference between first and second place in the tournament.
And some critics suggested the Finals would lack drama.
“I think they got it right, don’t you?” Peterson said. “At least for the first year.”
The system almost certainly is in for a couple of tweaks after its debut season, but Sunday at Dye’s Valley had all the highs and lows typically found on a final day – be it Q-School Finals or the Web.com Tour Championship’s old format.
Brad Fritsch’s 66 and share of second made sure Loupe wasn’t the only guy to connect on a Hail Mary. A shell-shocked Jim Herman could breathe a sigh of relief that his closing 76 didn’t cost him his card. Not so for Andrew Putnam, whose triple bogey at No. 8 seemed to take the air out of his sails.
Bobby Gates and Ricky Barnes claimed cards from home, maintaining their tenuous grips despite missing the cut.
“It’s tough to sit around and wait,” Gates told Golf Channel. “When I can’t control anything, I tend to get nervous and need to do something else.”
Then there was the mini-drama played out in a single threesome at No. 18. When Lee Williams drained a 50-foot birdie over a ridge with maybe two feet of break, playing competitor Andres Gonzales walked by to give him a high-five.
It wasn’t until they got to the scorecard tent that Gonzales learned Williams’ putt had knocked him out of a PGA TOUR return.
“I can’t [say] anything right now,” a dismayed Gonzales told a media liaison after getting up from the table.
The former UNLV standout had made a last-gasp surge to even get into the Finals, shooting 64 on the final day of the Wyndham Championship to get inside the top 200 in FedExCup points.
“Andres is great,” a sympathetic Williams said. “He’s one of the most well-liked players out here. He’s great to play with, helps keep your nerves calmer because he’s such a funny guy. Playing with him today was such a blessing. He’ll be back on TOUR.”
Williams wasn’t even sure a birdie at No.18 would punch his ticket, finally swayed by caddie Russ Bethel as they made the walk to the green.
“Let’s just make birdie,” Bethel told his boss.
“I don’t think it’s going to be enough,” Williams said.
“No, I promise you it’ll be enough,” Bethel said, adding that a birdie would lift him into a tie for eighth.
Then it was up to Williams to put all that out of his mind as he sized up the long, up-and-down, left-to-right breaker.
“My wife says I’m always dramatic in my golf game,” he said, “and I proved it again this week.”
So did Fritsch, who like Loupe missed the cut in each of the first three Finals events. The Canadian pro was in danger of making it four, languishing at 1-over with eight holes left in Friday’s round.
Three birdies got him to the weekend. Nine more Sunday propelled him back to the TOUR, including a 30-footer at No.8 and a 40-footer three holes later.
“Every time we made a birdie,” caddie Jeff Scott said, “I’d tell him, ‘We need a couple more, we need a couple more.’ Keep the pedal to the metal.”
Said Fritsch: “I had nothing to lose. My status wasn’t going to get worse as a result of how I played here.”
Herman found that out as well Sunday, but not until he’d suffered through a day that included five bogeys and a double bogey.
“When you play like crap, you’ve got to worry about it,” he said. “The weekend was rough. I didn’t let it go; didn’t play free. I worried about it too much.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Putnam could only lament that his ballstriking left him one day too soon. He was in position for a card until that triple bogey at No. 8, and three bogeys on the back nine led to a 75.
“I got into a bad rhythm,” he said, “and the pressure I guess just compounded problems with the swing. I started hitting bad shots and it was hard to find my way out of that.”
Putnam took a deep breath. “Yeah, it’s disappointing. Golf sucks sometimes.”