Emotional win for TOUR players at Wiffle Ball Classic
November 18, 2015
By Charlie Kane, PGATOUR.COM
- PGA TOUR players celebrate their emotional win over the PGA TOUR Wives Tuesday night in St. Simons Island. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Jonathan Byrd had his second career walk-off victory as a PGA TOUR player Tuesday night on the Frederica Academy wiffle ball field.
The fourth annual PGA TOUR Wives Association Wiffle Ball Classic presented by Krispy Kreme needed extra innings to provide what many called the most dramatic conclusion in the event's history. As in the past, the event featured PGA TOUR players squaring off against their wives, with local students from Altama Elementary School rounding out the other half of each team. Children from the school earned a spot on the team through their Positive Behavior Initiative and Support program, traits that clashed at times with their trash-talking PGA TOUR teammates.
Byrd delivered a game-winning fielder's choice in the bottom of the seventh, scoring defending RSM Classic champion Robert Streb and sending the PGA TOUR team into a frenzy. It led to an emotional celebration that tetered on the edge of sportsmanship, as the men were able to put behind them last year's controversial loss, a game many players publicly renounced due to what they called unfair umpiring.
Byrd won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in a similar walk-off, but less climactic fashion when he aced the fourth playoff hole in 2010.
In two-time major champion Zach Johnson's own words, it was the biggest win of his career.
"This is Everest for me," Johnson said.
The 39-year-old St. Simons Island resident began the game in light-hearted fashion, handing off the wiffle balls thrown to him near first base to one of the students near the bag (for them to tag it). In the fourth inning, with the score closer than many might have thought, Johnson decided to take the game into his own hands.
Not only did he take charge and throw out the idea of having a student cover first, but he finally laced his shoes which had been untied since the first pitch.
He also stepped up his offense. Johnson, who ranked T148 in driving distance last season, blasted a clutch hit in the bottom of the seventh inning to set up the game winning run.
Taylor Swift sang "Haters Gonna Hate" through the PA system throughout Streb's at-bats and that likely won't change next season after he scored the game winning run Tuesday. Streb hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the bottom half of the first inning but bounced back, much like he did during the back nine of the final round of the 2014 RSM Classic, and ended the night on top.
The men had a chance to end the game earlier by scoring a run in the bottom of the sixth. After one of the Altama students shot a ground ball down the third base line, the Wives threw home for what was sure to be a close play at the plate. That's when Peter Malnati, fresh off his first taste of victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship, swatted the ball out of the air with his hand and was called for interference.
One of the toughest obstacles for the men to overcome was the fact that the Wives were lining up 29 players inside the baselines, making infield singles nearly impossible. The men did their best to compete with only 23 players in the infield.
"I also noticed that they had three third-base coaches out there, too," said Chesson Hadley. "I mean, that's huge."
Hadley said the deciding factor in holding the Wives at bay may have been a crucial extra-inning defensive adjustment. Coach Kevin Kisner decided to position all 23 players from the TOUR team in front of the pitchers mound, leaving them vulnerable to bloop singles, but taking away any ground ball options. The move paid off, as the Wives were held scoreless in extra innings.
Some other notable observations:
• Vaughn Taylor handed his wife Leot their child while she was fielding, perhaps to impede her ability to use one of her arms.
• The game was stopped as a child with a wiffle ball bat sprinted through the middle of the field. He was apprehended by authorities soon after.
• The infield fly rule was invoked by umpire Ross Berlin for likely the first time in wiffle ball history.
• Stewart Cink became the tallest lead-off hitter in baseball history. He proved instantly that he was right for the role when he decided to slide into second to break up a double play in the top of the first.
• Zach Johnson shouted, "Easy out!" while his wife Kim stepped into the box, likely lowering her confidence as she struck out seconds later.
• Chesson Hadley had maybe the most emotional celebration of the night as he leaped, galloped and screamed around the entire infield after making a very athletic play and throwing out his wife Amanda at first base.
• The PGA TOUR Wives Assocation raised $25,000 for the Blessings in a Backpack program at Altama Elementary School in Brunswick, Georgia.
After the game, players shared how emotional of an experience the victory turned out to be:
Postgame interviews from the 4th Annual Wiffle Ball Classic