Hitt pulls off Saturday victory at Mission Inn
March 12, 2022
By Sara Wright , PGATOUR.COM
- March 12, 2022
HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Florida—After a long week of competition at the PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying event at Mission Inn Resort and Club, Austin Hitt was able to hold on to his commanding first-round lead to remain on top of the leaderboard the rest of the week, closing his final round with a 5-under 67 Saturday morning to finish 22-under for the week and clinch the lone exempt membership spot for the 2022 season.
Officials suspended the final round due to darkness Friday night and then resumed early Saturday for the remaining competitors who needed to finish their last few holes.
“This morning we came back out to a nice surprise. It was playing really tough, so any shot you hit off line went way off line, but I was able to pull it off,” said Hitt, who lives just 45 minutes away in Longwood, Florida. “I put a lot of pressure going into the week. I really wanted to get status, but most importantly full status, so I can kind of take my time, and if I need to take a week off, I can.
Hitt held a one-stroke lead over the Chinese Taipei’s Wei Hsuan Wang coming into the finale. On Friday afternoon, Wang drained an eagle putt on No. 14 from off the green to move to 8-under, bringing him to a 21-under when the horn sounded that evening. Then when play resumed on Saturday morning, Hitt gave Wang a rare opening when he over-shot the green and landed along the wood barrier in the bunker on No. 16. He needed two shots to get out of the sand and ended up with a bogey. Wang two-putted for par to move into a tie with Hitt with just two holes to go. The deadlock was short lived, however, as Hitt birdied No. 17 and then Wang hit his tee ball on No. 18 into the water.
In the end, that’s all Hitt needed to close out the round with a three-stroke advantage on Wang.
“Today I was really tired. It was a long couple of days,” Wang said. “I didn’t hit a good tee shot on the last hole, unfortunately, but it means a lot to still have partial exemption because the last couple years, with COVID, I haven’t been able to play many tournaments, but now I can get more exposure and tournaments that I need.”
China’s Charles Wang (no relation) finished in third, falling a bit behind after a couple bogeys and double bogeys in his Friday final round. He was able to recover a bit on the back nine to finish his fourth round with his worst score of the tournament, an even-par, to drop him eight back from the leader. Zack Taylor, on the other hand, was in seventh after the third round and shot a 7-under in the final round to jump up to fourth place. In fifth was Eric Lilleboe who shot 11-under for the tournament. The 34-year-old gains exempt status through the reshuffle of the PGA TOUR Canada season, a feat he’s been aiming toward for a while.
“I’ve been hanging around and really close. I have been really close to getting on the [PGA TOUR Canada] in years past and was really close to getting on the Forme Tour last year,” said Lilleboe.
Davis Lamb finished just behind, in sixth, while Davis Shore finished alone in seventh. Shore also recorded his best round of the tournament with a 67 allowing him to miss joining the five-person play-off for the last two spots of the exempt status, which was also weather delayed Saturday.
The five players tied for eighth were George Kneiser, Thomas Longbella, Evan Katz, Motin Yeung and Anthony Paolucci. The first playoff hole was on No. 18 and quickly eliminated Yeung and Paolucci. Kneiser, Longbella and Katz were forced to wait out a thunderstorm that moved through the area for a few hours. After resuming play, the three took to No. 6, the driest hole on the course, to help determine the final two exemptions. With 45 mph wind gusts, Katz overshot the green, chipped it, then found himself having to putt it in from the fringe to make par. He just missed and Kneiser and Longbella were able to officially celebrate the fact that they have exemptions for the first half of the season, while Katz is conditionally exempt.
• Did you know both George Kneiser and Thomas Longbella shot their best rounds of the event in the final round with a 65 and 66, respectively? They also played in the same group and are both from Wisconsin. Kneiser went to college in Green Bay, while Longbella ended up at the University of Minnesota.
How the Tournament Worked
The week began with 106 players in the field, with 104 finishing the competition. Below is a breakdown of the various PGA TOUR Canada membership statuses earned this week.
Exempt membership for the 2022 season
2nd through 9th (no ties)
Wei Hsuan Wang
Exempt through the reshuffle, which will occur approximately halfway through the season
10th through 30th (plus ties)
• Of the top finishers, only two players who shot under-par all four rounds. They were Wei Hsuan Wang (68-69-66-66) and Davis Lamb (69-69-71-69).
• There were 10 amateurs playing this week. Leading the way was University of Tennessee golfer Spencer Cross, who shot an even-par for the final round to make it into the conditional exemption for the 2022 season. Mark Reppe, from Baylor University, shot back-to-back rounds of 1-under, tying for 25th. Here is how all 10 fared in the third round.
“It’s cool to win here (at Mission Inn). I’ve come up just short in the Q-Schools in the past, but I also won the state championship here a number of years ago, which was also really cool.” –Austin Hitt
“It was kind of the same thing; I was close for a number of years and was able to get it done in my last year. Hopefully this is my last year at Q-Schools, as well.” –Austin Hitt
“It was awesome. I mean it’s always great to shoot the course record. I’d say I almost put a little pressure on myself. I played here so much, I’ve always kind of known what the number is, and I knew I was close to it. You kind of let your mind wander a bit after a round like that, knowing you will probably be in. But, in the second round, I was able to battle back a little, and then in the third and fourth I found my groove. I just had to stick to my game and finish it off.” – Austin Hitt on how his opening 62 affected the remainder of his tournament
“It’s been an interesting week. We were joking warming up for this second playoff that this is probably the 10th or 11th time warming up this week, between all the rain delays. It was good, though. It was windy and leaves were blowing all over. It felt really good to get it done.” – Thomas Longbella
“This means everything. I think the big challenge in golf at this level is you don’t know your schedule very well. Then you qualify for something like this, and you can put these first six events on your calendar, it means a lot and it can ease your mind a little bit.” –Thomas Longbella
“I had a tough go of it the first three rounds and was a way back, so I knew I had to shoot something low in that final round and I came out firing. I was lucky enough to get off to a good start and see some putts go in, so I was able to keep it together and put together a good round.” –George Kneiser