Inside Sucher's career-changing finish at the Travelers Championship
June 24, 2019
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
- Zack Sucher finished in a tie for second at the Travelers Championship. (Stan Badz/Getty Images)
CROMWELL, Conn. – There was a ride of roughly 700 miles ahead of them, but after some of the trappings that had punctuated this wildest journey of their lives, Zack and Courtney Sucher said Sunday evening they were going to enjoy the car time with daughters Hadley and Claire.
Indeed, Courtney said the 9-to-10-hour drive from this bucolic town to Detroit’s Motown was going to feel like a sunset cruise compared to the stressful roller-coaster excursion their life has been of late.
After all, it is easy to drive hundreds of miles with money in the bank and job security in the trunk, next to the golf clubs. You can float on your blessings. But to try and go from nowhere to somewhere on interest-free credit cards is a rough ride. You have to embrace faith.
“I know with Zack, he doesn’t ever give up,” said Courtney. “He’s a true believer. I have faith in him, and I had faith in God that he would get him there.”
Specifically, by “there”, Courtney Sucher didn’t mean Detroit Golf Club for this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic. She meant to a place where you have peace of mind and the relief to know all your perseverance and trusts have been rewarded. It is a far more beautiful place than a golf course, no disrespect to venerable Detroit GC, which will host a PGA TOUR tournament for the first time.
The peace of mind and relief are owed to the way the numbers fell in Sucher’s favor in a whirlwind of weekend golf at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. He arrived at the tournament on one of two exemptions extended to players on the Korn Ferry Tour list; that spot appreciated because Zack Sucher is also on a medical exemption dating back to 2017 and knew he had just two tournaments left to generate 347 FedExCup points.
If Sucher didn’t get overwhelmed by the task of piling up that many FEC points in such a short amount of time, perhaps it’s because real life had hit hard. “Coming back from medical,” he said, “we had seven months with no income at all coming in two years ago. During that time, we had to take out some credit cards.”
Not a recommended course of action, but in 2017, Sucher had missed the cut in 11 of 14 starts before opting for surgery. Doctors in Birmingham, Ala., where he and Courtney live, went into Zack’s left leg to repair extensive ligament and tendon damage, and while they were there they fixed some issues his bad knee, too. The recovery time kept him out the rest of 2017 and all of the next season. When he returned to golf in 2019, Sucher tackled the Korn Ferry Tour and produced a T-2, a T-4, and enough money to sit 32nd and assure himself status out there for this year and next.
Then, the former University of Alabama-Birmingham standout set his sights on the PGA TOUR, where he knew he was a long-shot. Which is OK, because a long-shot with an inner belief, a supportive wife, and a small circle of friends is in position to script an intriguing story. And Craig Mullinax, for one, couldn’t wait to be part of it.
“Zack is as good as gold, a really good man,” said Mullinax, whose nephew, Trey Mullinax, also plays on the PGA TOUR. “I got to know Zack about two-and-a-half years ago. We hang out at Shoal Creek a lot and when he asked me to caddie for him, I was excited for the chance.”
By now, the particulars to the story have been well documented: How Sucher in Round 3 went from six in the lead to six behind playing competitor Chez Reavie, thanks in large part to a horrific meltdown of a three-hole stretch and a back-nine 41, and how he played those same nine holes in 5-under 30 Sunday to sprint into a tie for second behind Reavie, rake in 245 FedExCup points and put himself in position to secure a PGA TOUR card for the rest of this year and in 2019-20.
Yes, you can cue up any of the underdog music you prefer, but amid the wild scene in the scoring area Sunday, Courtney Sucher and Mullinax stood to the side and sang the praises of their husband and friend, not words to a song. And they focused not on the blur of that back-nine 30, but on the darker moments that Zack had to navigate to get here.
“At Wells Fargo, when he made that double-bogey (on the 13th hole in Round 2 to fall one outside the cut), he didn’t give up,” said Courtney. “He told me the eagle he made two holes later changed his whole perspective to this comeback.”
That eagle got Sucher into weekend play, but more importantly, it ignited a confidence within. “He’s never doubted his ability to stay in it,” she said.
As for Mullinax, he watched as his man bogeyed the 10th hole Saturday, then followed it with ugly double-bogeys at 11 and 12. “It was a huge moment, but at the 13th tee I told him, ‘Look, we’ve got to get together here and work to make pars to settle this thing,’ ” said Mullinax, whose older brother (and Trey’s dad) is Chip Mullinax, a former NASCAR driver.
“When a car spins out, you get it back in gear and get back into the race,” Mullinax said. And clearly Sucher understood, because he made six straight pars after that stunning third-round stretch at 10-11-12 and that went a long way toward vaulting him into Sunday’s spectacular finish.
“I wasn’t sure how I would handle it this weekend,” said Sucher. “I’ve done it on the Korn Ferry Tour a few times, but this was (different). Crowd-wise, everything is 10 times bigger out here, so to be honest, it was so much fun.”
To study the logistics of his status Sunday night was to deflect enthusiasm away from a story that deserved good cheer. Courtney choked back tears, Mullinax kept shaking his head, and the man of the hour, having acknowledged that the share of second was worth $636,000, was true to his embrace of simple means.
“I know that like two months ago, we had credit-card debt, so I know we don’t have that anymore.”
While he’s still shy by 77 FedExCup points of what he needs to satisfy his medical-exemption target, it’s almost irrelevant. Having earned 126-to-150 status, Sucher will be able to play more than two tournaments, if he chooses, and the likelihood of finishing within the top 125 (he’s currently 126th on just four starts) is very good.
A story with so many layers of inspiration and warmth, though Zack Sucher – who only moments earlier had bumped fists with Bryson DeChambeau who smiled and let out with a “Hell, yeah” – stood in the scoring area and tried to absorb it all.
“It’s huge for us. It’s exciting. It’s awesome. (but) you know, honestly, I can’t wrap my head around it,” he said.
Which is OK. That’s what the long drive to Detroit was for.