Timing, as they say, is everything. And Chesson Hadley couldn’t have had much better timing if he had planned the lead-up to his homecoming event.
OK, a victory last week at the Air Capital Classic would have served as a better springboard heading to this week’s Rex Hospital Open, played just down the road from the Raleigh native’s residence. Then again, grabbing your first Web.com Tour win in your hometown has a nice ring, too.
And if you’re going to miss a cut, you might as well do it when it gets you two extra days at home.
“As much as I would have loved to play well,” Hadley said, “Wichita was just a good warmup for this week. It’s a major, if you will.”
Of course, there’s no such thing as a major on the Web.com Tour, where the goal is not one majestic week but season-long excellence and a PGA TOUR card at the end of the journey. But when the Tour stops in your backyard, it’s only natural to want to perform well for the folks.
“My family lives there, my wife’s family lives there, all my friends live there,” said Hadley, playing his first Web.com Tour season. “I’d love to go back and play well for all the people who have supported me over the years. It should be a fun week.”
And, as mentioned at the outset, the timing couldn’t be much better.
Before the missed cut in Wichita, Hadley had strung together three consecutive finishes of no worse than sixth, including a second place at the Mid-Atlantic Championship. From 88th on the money list, he now stands ninth with $137,284.
That’s well in range of those 25 PGA TOUR cards awarded at the end of the regular season.
“At one point, I didn’t really know how things would work out,” Hadley said, recalling his concern over the reshuffle for priority status that takes place after every four events.
“I was thinking, let’s just adjust our goals to play well enough to retain my card on the Web.com Tour. I’ll get used to the courses, used to the travel. Then the next week I finished third.”
The turning point came during Hadley’s third round at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in South Carolina. Nine shots off the pace after two rounds, Hadley was spinning his wheels when he bogeyed No. 7 at Lake Keowee.
“I literally took the yardage book out of my back pocket and put it in the bag. I had my pin sheet and decided to go right at flags, just let my talent take over.”
Hadley notched seven birdies over the remaining 11 holes. The next day, he birdied his first four holes at the Thornblade Club, eagled No. 5 and matched a Web.com Tour record with a 27 on his front nine.
It wasn’t enough to catch winner Mark Anderson, but it left Hadley with a greater awareness of how he works best. “I’m the type of guy that he more I think, probably the worse off it’s going to be,” he said.
One week later, Hadley tied for sixth in Mexico. At the Mid-Atlantic Championship, a 67-67 weekend wasn’t quite enough to overcome a second-round 75 as he finished two shots behind Michael Putnam.
“I’ve adjusted nicely,” said Hadley, a Georgia Tech grad who spent the past two years playing the eGolf Tour in his home state.
As it turns out, new courses and an extended travel schedule haven’t been the biggest hurdles in his adjustment. It’s been trying to keep a steady caddie.
Hadley has used four caddies this season, a revolving door that began when the man who helped him through last year’s qualifying finals took another opportunity after three events. This week will be his second event with Josh Svendsen on his bag.
“Of all the things I thought I’d encounter this year,” Hadley said. “It’s funny, but I didn’t envision having to go through this many caddies. But it’s important to find somebody where you mesh well.”
Svendsen, a veteran who spent two years on Troy Matteson’s bag, came at the recommendation of Hadley’s swing coach.
“He’s a nice, solid all-around guy,” Hadley said, adding that Svendsen has a good sense of when to keep him loose and when to stay out of the way.
Until this year, Hadley had been doing his own yardages. His experience at this level had been limited to Monday qualifying for the 2010 Mylan Classic and last year’s Wyndham Championship on the PGA TOUR.
In both cases, he missed the cut. However, his exit from the Wyndham – little more than an hour from Raleigh – affirmed that he was on the right track.
“I brought my C+ game and missed the cut by one,” he recalled. “I was disappointed because I wanted to play well … but it told me I’m where I need to be. Golf is what I should be doing.”
Hadley might have been destined for another year on the lower circuit, though, but for an odd twist of fate. A week after falling one stroke short of surviving the first stage of last fall’s PGA TOUR qualifying, he received a call that he was moving on.
Blayne Barber, who had advanced, had informed PGA TOUR officials he’d given himself the wrong penalty for brushing a leaf while playing a bunker shot in the qualifier. The self-DQ moved the cut line, and Hadley was one of five players let back in.
“A stroke of good fortune,” said Hadley, adding that Barber deserves credit for a move that set his career back a year.
Hadley still had to make the most of the opportunity, too. And he hopes to make the most this week of his familiarity with the TPC Wakefield Plantation, located little more than five minutes from his home.
“Tee to green, there’s not a bad hole on the golf course,” Hadley said. “I’ve probably played the course more than anyone else, and that’s a huge advantage. Of course, you’ve still got to go hit the golf shots.”
He’ll also have to be adept at juggling the demands of the home crowd. His week already has featured two pro-ams, two TV segments and two radio interviews, plus a photo shoot for Golf Digest.
“I’ve got a crazy schedule,” he said without complaint. “I’m just going to enjoy the fact that I’m in Raleigh and playing in front of a hometown crowd. If I can embrace that, the week is going to be just fine.”