COMCAST BUSINESS TOP 10
Monday Finish: Five things from Congaree
June 14, 2021
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Garrick Higgo’s Round 4 highlights from the Palmetto Championship
The new South African wave is well and truly here. While the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel have been the headliners over the last 15 years or so, Garrick Higgo’s win at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree is a serious statement.
Higgo held firm down the stretch to post in at 11 under while a raft of others couldn’t match it. Chesson Hadley lost a four-shot 54-hole lead and a two-shot buffer with three to play, Harris English dropped five shots in his last eight, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson stalked the lead before a late triple … but Higgo, at 22, is now a PGA TOUR winner
Here are five things you may have missed from the unique visit to Congaree Golf Club.
1. Higgo here to stay
It’s an incredible story. Garrick Higgo, a 22-year-old South African who lost his father to a car accident when just nine, claimed the Palmetto Championship in just his second PGA TOUR start. His first was the recent PGA Championship (T64) at Kiawah Island after earning a start thanks to a golden month on the European Tour that read T4-1-T8-1.
While players were crumbling all over Congaree, the left-handed youngster held firm and thanks to three closing bogeys from Chesson Hadley, he didn’t even need extra holes to become the first player to win in one of their first two starts since Jim Benepe in 1988.
Should he take up PGA TOUR membership as expected, Higgo will immediately slide into 80th spot on the FedExCup standings and be a potential giant-killer come Playoffs time. While others struggled on the back nine, Higgo was one of just five players to play those holes 6-under in the final two rounds making 113-feet, six-inches of putts in the process.
With Gary Player as a long-term mentor Higgo has always had plenty of support in the right places and at this rate he could become the first Junior Presidents Cup player to make the actual Presidents Cup in 2022, ironically under the same captain in fellow South African Trevor Immelman. Read more about his great story here.
Oh and he’s not the only young South African about to make serious waves… introducing the smash factor of Wilco Nienaber!
Garrick Higgo receives call from Gary Player following Palmetto Championship victory
2. Chesson Hadley had the trophy in his grasp before a heart-wrenching finish
When Hadley won the 2014 Puerto Rico Open the common thought was the almost always smiling character wouldn’t wait long before another triumph. But assuming success on the PGA TOUR is always fraught with danger.
Hadley had runner-up finishes in the fall of 2017 and 2018 but had failed to notch up a top-10 in 2020 or 2021 when he turned up at Congaree. In fact he’d missed 12 of his last 14 cuts, including the last five straight.
So to say his four-shot 54-hole lead was a surprise was certainly an understatement. A couple of early fourth round bogeys could’ve been early killers but Hadley battled on and through 15 holes he found himself with a two-shot lead and on the verge of a drought breaking win.
But his approach game had proven problematic throughout Sunday and to that point he’d found only four greens in regulation. He wouldn’t find any of the last three and the bogey-bogey-bogey finish to fall one short will grate on him for some time.
“I was uncomfortable out there, and I could never really hit some good shots to try to settle me down… It was always an uphill battle. It was always putting for pars and bogeys. It caught up with me,” Hadley said.
“I hate the word choked. That's not the right word because that's a very negative word, but I didn't handle it the way I needed to handle it … it sucks, right? I can only imagine what it looked like on TV because it looked freakin' awful from my view. I could barely keep it on the planet.”
While it certainly stung, the good news is Hadley jumped from 151st in the FedExCup to 111th, and now has the chance to secure a spot in the August Playoffs if he can continue some half decent form.
“It was a good week. If I had shot 75 the first round and then 65, 66, 68, I'd be tickled,” Hadley said. “I made a nice jump today in the FedExCup, but I still probably need to just get some more points if I'm going to head on to Liberty National. Plenty of golf left to see if we can't get in the mix a few more times and maybe seal the deal on one.”
3. The last time Bo Van Pelt had a runner-up finish the Twilight saga was ending and The Hunger Games was just beginning. He also had an extra rib
That was back in 2012 but Van Pelt produced a blast from the past to go close to a second TOUR victory (2009 U.S. Bank Championship). Playing with eventual winner Higgo, Van Pelt will rue bogeys on 16 and 18 on Sunday that cost him any chance.
Van Pelt remains on the comeback trail from a shoulder injury that occurred when trying to haul a backpack over a car seat in 2015 – a freak issue that would ultimately lead to Van Pelt needing to have one of his ribs removed and spend near three and a half years away.
Last season he made just four cuts and this season he opened with nine straight missed cuts before starting to find just a little form.
“I didn't play 18 holes for over three years. I had three shoulder surgeries, so I thought I was done, to be honest,” Van Pelt admitted. “My hand kind of got numb. Got referred to a guy down in Dallas named Greg Pearl, who looked at me and said, I've got to take out your first rib. As soon as he did, my shoulder didn't hurt anymore. I said, well, let's see if I can get my game back in shape.
“It's been fun. It's been tough. It's kind of like starting over. When you're out of the game that long, all your old feels aren't the same. My coach Mark Wood, who's up in Charlotte now, we've been together 20 years. We've been working hard to try to get it back. He came up here this week and gave me a couple of good tips and kind of got me going in the right direction.”
Van Pelt rode a hot putter, finishing third in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (+6.043), after Indiana based coach Bruce Rearick helped with a slight adjustment in his posture and setup, and “just kind of cleaned up my stroke a little bit”.
4. The early fruits of PGA TOUR University are starting to ripen
Davis Thompson’s pro debut at Congaree did not start according to plan when he was 5-over through eight holes. You’d be forgiven for putting a missed cut next to his name right there and then.
But the former University of Georgia star, who was second on the PGA TOUR U rankings before turning pro, wasn’t about to lie down and knuckled down to show some serious grit that makes one think he’s got a serious future ahead of him.
He was still five-over after 11 holes in the opening round but then exploded with five birdies, including four straight to close the day and shoot an even-par 71. Rounds of 69-71-70 followed for a very respectable T35 which made his mom, dad and sister in the gallery extremely proud.
“I got off to a terrible start. I don’t know if I was nervous, or I just wasn’t really thinking or calculating the right yardages in the fairway. I was landing everything hole-high, and it was going over the green. Made a nice adjustment on the back nine, or really starting on the ninth hole, was able to make birdie there and just turned it on on the back,” Thompson said of that opening round.
“I thought I did a lot of things well this week. It’s just there are some things I need to work on. Great experience, being my first professional event. It was great for me to make the cut. I learned some things, simple course-management stuff. I learned I have what it takes to compete. Just making a few less mental mistakes and I should be good.”
Thompson has starts locked in at the Travelers Championship and Rocket Mortgage Classic in coming weeks.
Former PGA TOUR U No. 1 John Pak also played his first pro event and although he missed the cut, he’s another to keep an eye on.
5. Koepka and DJ remain confident despite stumbles
FedExCup champion Dustin Johnson was seven shots back starting the final round in his home state and once again it appeared his ho-hum home results would continue. But then he birdied three of the first four holes on the back nine Sunday to rocket to 11 under (the eventual winning score) and become a serious threat and an ominous presence on the leaderboard.
There was almost a sense of inevitability around the place that he was going to surge to victory and head to the U.S. Open as the man to beat.
But then the 16th hole swallowed him up and spat him out with a disastrous triple-bogey and just like that he was gone. Despite the setback Johnson has clearly found some form by collecting his first top-10 since The Genesis Invitational back in February.
Four-time major winning Koepka, who was runner up to Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship, missed the cut meaning his incredible run of results since winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open reads 1-T38-T2-CUT-CUT-T2-CUT.
Despite missing the weekend Koepka was happy his troublesome right knee was feeling stronger and stronger.
“It's good,” he said. “It's in a really good spot. I like where it's at. I've done enough rehab, strength's coming around. I mean, I can almost squat down to read a putt like normal. Didn't do it too much this week just because I don't want to screw it up for next week.”
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