Georgia senior Ralston looking forward to opportunity at RBC Heritage
April 16, 2020
By Brendan Stasiewich, PGATOUR.COM
- April 16, 2020
- Spencer Ralston will tee it up at the RBC Heritage that has been rescheduled for June. (Bulldogs Athletics)
Absurd, improbable, preposterous, unlikely, doubtful.
Pick whichever adjective you’d like.
When a player is 11 strokes back of the lead with one round remaining, it’s easy to see how winning a tournament might not be front of mind. It just doesn’t happen.
That was the plot at the 2019 Players Amateur in Bluffton, South Carolina. Leader Stewart Hagestad, a former University of Southern California golfer, showed no signs of slowing down, posting a score of 21-under through 54 holes at Berkeley Hall Club’s South Course to lead Alex Smalley by five shots. Hagestad looked like he was going to cruise to victory and earn the available exemption into the 2020 RBC Heritage. Spencer Ralston? He was the guy 11 shots back with 18 holes to play.
Ralston, a University of Georgia senior-to-be, woke up Sunday on that warm July morning facing a huge deficit, and by that afternoon the seemingly impossible became possible.
“When the day started, never did I think I had a chance of winning,” said Ralston. “I started the day with no expectations, and then that ended up happening.”
The “that” was Ralston shooting a final-round 63, including an eagle and eight birdies. He signed for a four-day total of 269.
Meanwhile, Chris Haack, Ralston’s coach at the University of Georgia, had been getting the play-by-play from rules official and good friend Bob Patton throughout the day as things began tightening.
“When (Ralston) got to 6-under, [Patton] started texting me,” said Haack. “He told me that he got to 7-under, and then, wow, he made eagle and got to 9-under. It was exciting and crazy all at the same time.”
Imagine how Ralston was feeling.
Finishing his round close to 45 minutes before Hagestad’s final grouping, Ralston found a seat in the clubhouse with some other players who were eating lunch and watching Wimbledon on TV. Unbeknownst to Ralston, he was the clubhouse leader. With Hagestad taking a step back, Ralston realized he suddenly had a chance to win the tournament.
“I knew I had played a good round but hadn’t looked at the leaderboard. One of the rules officials told me to grab something quick (to eat) and to warm up because I was only one or two strokes back,” said Ralston. That’s when he realized where he stood and that there was the real possibility for a playoff.
A rules official joined Ralston on the driving range, and he kept Ralston in the loop via radio communication about what was happening on the course. As Ralston tried to maintain focus, he learned that a Hagestad bogey on hole No. 17 meant the pair was tied at the top of the leaderboard.
Preparing for a potential playoff, it didn’t cross Ralston’s mind that on top of the Players Amateur title—and what was looking like a once-in-a-lifetime comeback—a win would also mean an invitation to his first PGA TOUR event.
“I knew an exemption into the Heritage was on the line at the start of the week,” said the Bulldog captain. “But on that day, because I didn’t really think I had a chance of winning, it never really crossed my mind.”
With Hagestad on the 18th green, Ralston multi-tasked, warming up while anxiously awaiting word from the rules official at the scene.
“Three-putt,” Ralston heard, and that’s when he knew the victory was his. Hagestad had bogeyed three of his final six holes, shooting a final-round 75. All Ralston could do was turn around and hug his cousin and caddie Sims Griffith.
“We’ll see you in April at the Heritage,” the rules official said to Ralston on his way back to the clubhouse.
“That was a really cool moment that I will never forget,” said Ralston. “One of my goals is to play on the PGA TOUR, and I haven’t played in an event yet, so that is the next step. It felt like a big achievement to get that opportunity as an amateur.”Spencer Ralston's victory at the Players Amateur earned him a spot at the RBC Heritage. (Players Amateur)
Unfortunately, Ralston, like the rest of the world, had to put his plans on hold due to COVID-19.
Following the final round of Mackenzie Tour Qualifying Tournament in Dothan, Ala., where he earned conditional status, Ralston learned that the TOUR was postponing the RBC Heritage. The Southeastern Conference had canceled its golf championship, slated for the next week, as well.
“Seeing what’s going on around the country and the world, it’s crazy,” said Ralston, who tied for 30th in Dothan. “We got some more details from coaches the next day, learning that our tournaments had been canceled. It seems like every time you look at social media there is something new happening.”
For a while, it looked like Ralston would have to wait until the 2021 RBC Heritage to make his TOUR debut in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Fortunately for Ralston, the TOUR rescheduled the RBC Heritage for June 18-21, a spot on the schedule originally belonging to the U.S. Open.
With the NCAA canceling all spring sports, including golf, Ralston has been idle from tournament golf. Haack has kept in touch with all his Bulldog players via Zoom meetings throughout the crisis and is looking forward to his captain having the chance to take on Harbour Town Golf Links in June. He’s not surprised at the success Ralston has had since he first took notice of Ralston’s maturity level and skill at a high school recruiting camp Ralston attended.
“Every time a guy has a chance to play in a PGA TOUR event, it’s a big deal and stepping stone to see what it’s like at the next level,” said Haack, who has coached six Bulldogs who have gone on to win PGA TOUR events: Brian Harman, Harris English, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Brendon Todd and Bubba Watson.
“I’ve been telling [Ralston] and the other guys to just stay positive and not to let anything get them down,” Haack continued. “This might be a much-needed break, and they didn’t even know it. There’s always a way to put a positive spin on things.”
After proving his ability to overcome a seemingly insurmountable lead this past summer, it likely won’t prove too difficult for Ralston to stay positive ahead of his PGA TOUR debut.