Gellerman recalls breakthrough victory at 2019 KC Golf Classic
May 07, 2020
By Preston Smith, PGATOUR.COM
- May 07, 2020
- University of Oklahoma alum Michael Gellerman weathered three final-round weather delays to win at Blue Hills CC. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Every golfer at every level has dreamed about the same thing at some point. The breakthrough. The moment where you go from a golfer in a tournament to the golfer that wins the tournament.
For Michael Gellerman, that moment came at the 2019 KC Golf Classic. Surrounded by his fiancée (now wife), family, friends and dog, Gellerman earned the biggest win of his career in his fifth year as a professional. Gellerman is now a rookie on the PGA TOUR, owing his ascent to the success of that fateful week in Kansas City.
Entering the week, Gellerman was in need of a good finish. Close to the halfway point in the Regular Season, he was 75th on the Points List, despite tallying back-to-back top-30 finishes over the past two weeks.
“Maybe living in the Midwest where it’s not that warm during the winter doesn’t help me, but I tend to not get off to the best starts compared to guys who live in Florida,” said Gellerman. “But my game was starting to trend.”
With a new driver in tow from two weeks prior, Gellerman was confident. But there was an added layer of comfortability in Kansas City. Gellerman grew up in Sterling, Kansas, a three-and-a-half-hour drive away and was excited for the week ahead even before it began.
“It was great because me and my wife have tons of friends in Kansas City; we already knew it was going to be a really fun week,” said Gellerman. “That’s how we treated it. My wife came and brought my dog for the whole week. We were staying with a couple of my good friends and they had dogs; it was just a full house. To be quite honest, we were drinking a few too many beers that week.”To be honest, we were drinking a few too many beers that week.
The tournament started with a misstep. On his first hole, he hit three good shots for a 4-foot birdie look. Then a three-putt bogey.
“I was like, ‘Welp, great start,’” said Gellerman.
But he rebounded and shot under par during a cold first round, an accomplishment at the tough Blue Hills Country Club. He followed that up with a strong second nine on Friday to get into contention and maintained it with a 2-under 70 on Saturday to sit three back entering the final round.
“By the time late Friday and into the weekend rolled around, I had all of my family and friends following me and having a great time,” reflected Gellerman. “They were all cranking out Naturdays like they were going out of style. Saturday was one big party for all of my friends, and then when I was in the hunt on Sunday too that turned into a ‘Sunday Funday.’”
Sunday’s round unfolded like a movie. Gellerman and Kansas City product Harry Higgs surged to the top of the leaderboard early in the round. The weather threat finally came to fruition with three separate delays – totaling three hours – during the round.
Gellerman remembered as a young golfer getting frustrated with weather delays. He didn’t mind the first delay, coming around his seventh hole. The second one felt almost timely, the horn sounding right after he hit a “horrible” birdie putt at the 12th.
By the time he reached the 17th hole, Gellerman held a slim lead over Higgs and 54-hole leader Nelson Ledesma. He had struggled with the hole all week, missing the fairway each day, and did so again during the final round, finding the left rough. It was decision time.
“There was this moment between me and my caddie about whether we should chip out into the fairway and have a long third shot or if we should get it up around the green and go from there,” said Gellerman. “I just told him, ‘This is how I play; I play aggressive.’ So I decided to play it up around the green. It was about 40 yards short in the left rough. I remember thinking from there if I can just get it on the green and make bogey at worse, I’ll still have a chance on 18.”
“And then I hit the short-game shot of my life. I hit it to about 7 feet, which I never in the world thought I could get it that close from that thick rough, and I made the par putt. That up-and-down is the biggest up-and-down of my career to this day with all of the pressure that was involved.”Michael Gellerman is congratulated by Harry Higgs after winning the 2019 KC Golf Classic. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
And then the horn sounded again. The third rain delay came just before Gellerman’s tee shot on 18. There’s something unique about waiting out a rain delay knowing you are one hole away from your first professional win. Gellerman and his caddie tried not to think about it, but he was anxious. At the same time, ‘It was better to be in that position than waiting to get back out there to finish 40th.’
“I remember I hit a few warm-up balls on the range next to Harry,” said Gellerman. “We both had grown up rivals and good friends; it just reminded me of us being kids and wanting to beat each other all of the time. It was like a flashback moment.”
Having grown up in Kansas City, Higgs had an even larger gallery than Gellerman. Higgs hit some incredible shots down the stretch, including hitting the flagstick on approach on two of the last three holes, but the putts didn’t fall.
“I remember Harry hit the flagstick with his approach shot on 18 and the crowd went nuts,” said Gellerman, playing in the penultimate pairing (one group behind Higgs). “I actually waited to hit my layup shot until Harry had putted because if he had made the putt I was going to be more aggressive. But he missed the shot so I played the hole conservatively and got my par.
“That was my first professional win and to do it on that marathon day, on the Korn Ferry Tour where I had grinded on for years, it was a really cool feeling,” said Gellerman. “It almost felt like destiny, having all of my friends and family there, it being Mother’s Day. It just ended up being a really cool week.”Michael Gellerman is congratulated by his mom after winning the 2019 KC Golf Classic. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)