WEB.COM TOUR INSIDER
Mitchell makes memories in TOUR debut
March 20, 2017
By Jarrod Heil, PGATOUR.COM
- Georgia alum Keith Mitchell finished T11 at the Valspar Championship with family and friends in tow. (Kevin Prise/PGA TOUR)
With four weeks off between Web.com Tour events, many guys keep their game sharp by playing mini-tours and skins games. Feeling as though he was in the midst of playing some of the best golf of his life, Keith Mitchell wanted to test his hand at a higher level.
After attending a funeral and receiving help from friends to get gear, Mitchell tested his game with an appearance in the Monday qualifier for the PGA TOUR’s Valspar Championship.
“I was talking to my caddie, saying, ‘Man, I really wish we had some tournaments to play in right now because I feel like we’re playing really good,’” said Mitchell, who was playing in his third PGA TOUR qualifier. “That was when he told me, ‘Man, why don’t we play one of the PGA TOUR events?’”
That was on the second hole of the qualifier.
He wound up finishing the front nine at 6 under, but struggled as he carded 2 over on the back nine. It was good enough to make it into a playoff, and he drained a 25-foot birdie putt to clinch a spot in his maiden PGA TOUR event.
When word got out to friends and family, the congratulatory texts began rolling in.
“It kind of fired me up to say, ‘Listen, I don’t want ‘Congratulations’ texts on Tuesday when I could still miss the cut,” Mitchell said. “I wanted them on Sunday, after I played well and proved that I can play out here.”
Keith Mitchell drops a bucket on No. 12 at Valspar
Of course, he only shared those thoughts with his caddie and agent. He welcomed the texts, and was extremely appreciative that they were flowing in.
“That was what was so hard, to just stay committed to playing well throughout the entire week and not settling to say, ‘Oh, I made a PGA TOUR event. This is fun,’” he said. “I was determined to ride that confidence, ride that belief all the way to Sunday.”
Even though Mitchell was playing in his first TOUR event, something he had dreamt of his entire life, the last thing he wanted to do was sit back and soak it in. He wasn’t there to simply play an event. He was there to make the cut and play as best as he could – to prove he belongs out there with the best in the world.
Coming off of a T5 finish at the Panama Claro Championship, where a final-round 66 propelled him to 8 under, the third-year pro felt like he was playing some of the best golf of his life. Rounds of 69 and 70 were good enough to make it to the weekend. That’s when his gallery became a bit larger and lot louder.Keith Mitchell had some good vibes after making the cut at the Valspar Championship. (Nick Parker/PGA TOUR)
With his mom and two of her friends, who are like aunts to Mitchell, already in the crowd and his girlfriend on the way, Mitchell got some surprise visitors Saturday morning.
Bags already packed, four of his childhood friends waited until his final putt dropped on Friday night to secure a weekend spot before they headed out at 6:30 p.m. for the nearly nine-hour drive from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the Valspar Championship outside Tampa, Florida.
Wanting to surprise Mitchell, they didn’t tell him they were headed that way. They sent a text to Harris English, who was also playing the event and went to high school with the friends. He gladly left tickets at will call and kept it quiet.
“We didn’t really want to surprise him and mess his round up. We didn’t want to get in his head,” said Adam Shuford, who has been great friends with Mitchell for about 15 years. “But we figured it’d be a good idea to surprise him.”Keith Mitchell is greeted by friends after the final round at Innisbrook Resort. (Kevin Prise/PGA TOUR)
The adrenaline was wearing off for the night, so they stopped at a hotel near Gainesville, Florida, at around 3 a.m. and then woke up three hours later to drive the rest of the way.
When they got to the course, they immediately went to the driving range, where Mitchell was hitting golf balls preparing for his round, and Shuford yelled out his name.
“He kind of looked back with a smile and did a little double take and you could just see the shock in his eyes,” Shuford said. “He was so happy.”
And the camaraderie seemed to pay off for Mitchell.
“When I was feeling the pressure, or wasn’t hitting the shots I wanted to hit, to just have a step back and know that there are people out there that took their time to come all the way down to watch you play,” he said. “Regardless of how you finish, it’s really nice to have support out there.”
He rolled in a 48-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to close out his first TOUR event and waited to see what the rest of the field did. His 6-under showing was good enough for a T11 finish and $144,900, which is more than his career earnings so far between the Web.com Tour and PGA TOUR Latinoamerica.
“I think I blacked out as soon as he made it. We were screaming at the top of our lungs,” said Chad Seymour, who made the trek and has known Mitchell since they were about 3 years old. “He was doing that little dance he did, where he walked around and almost walked off into the bunker. … He showed off for us. He’s a showman.”
Keith Mitchell closes his final round with a 47-footer at Valspar