Last man in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship field Rob Labritz embracing the ride
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Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour
Rob Labritz has seen the 7-foot bogey putt he made on the 54th hole on Sunday at the PGA TOUR Champions TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida, “at least a thousand times. Maybe 5,000 by now.”
And the cool thing for the second-year pro is the left-to-right slider drops in the cup every single time.
“I want that image burned into my brain,” Labritz said Tuesday, minutes before his first chance to look at the Phoenix Country Club, site of the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship. The four-round event begins on Thursday.
Labritz is there courtesy of that putt. It secured his spot at No. 36 on the Schwab Cup points list, the last to make the field for the finale and right on the number that gives him fully exempt status on PGA TOUR Champions for the following year.
Labritz was leaking a bit of oil on the back nine on Sunday. Needing only to par in to make the top 36 with no worries, he bogeyed Nos. 12 and 14 to leave himself little margin for error.
“I had my caddie do some reconnaissance,” Labritz said. “With three holes left I just asked him, ‘What do we need to do?’ And he said, ‘You need to make a bunch of sound swings, and you need to avoid double bogeys. You make a birdie, it's all good.’”
Labritz made par on holes 15, 16 and 17. All he had to do was bogey 18. But his drive missed the fairway right, and he couldn’t advance his second shot as far as he’d hoped. He dumped his third into a bunker some 35 yards from the hole.
So there he was, a player ranked 68th in sand saves at 40.4% and 45th in putting average with a nightmarishly long bunker shot and fully exempt status on the line.
“My caddie and I have been practicing bunkers,” Labritz said. “That's probably the thing that we've done the most this year is practice bunker shots because my bunker play was terrible. I hit a great shot to about 7 feet.
“Ken Duke had 20 feet for birdie that was sort of on my line, and he made it. So I watched his closely and I just trusted the line, and my putt did the same thing and went in.”
Rob Labritz makes clutch bogey putt at TimberTech
It touched off a fist-pumping celebration that would have made Tiger Woods proud.
“I mean look, the fact my whole year came down to the last putt on the last hole just blew my mind,” Labritz said.
Labritz, the medalist at Q-School ahead of the 2022 season, won’t have to worry about alternate status or Monday qualifying in 2024. It allows for a level of relaxation that he didn’t feel this year after finishing 41st in the Schwab Cup standings his rookie year.
“Personally speaking, I have these goals that I have to attain,” Labritz said. “And my goal was always to finish in the top 36 when I'm out here. So this year, I was stressing. There were some events where I was sitting on the fence, last guy in the field, and I don't like that because I need to start right now. This is how I make my living. I need to get as many starts as I can.”
After popping his best finish of the season, a tie for fourth at the U.S. Senior Open (he also tied for the fourth at the Hoag Classic in March), Labritz had a midseason slump. He followed the U.S. Senior Open with two T53s, a T43 and a solo 77th at the Shaw Charity Classic that left him in danger of not making the top 36.
Then Labritz found his groove. A lithe 6-foot right-hander with a compact swing that provides plenty of length (sixth in driving distance this season), he admitted that beyond his driver, the rest of his game wasn’t up to snuff with what he found on PGA TOUR Champions.
“I was working on some things during the time when I was playing poorly as well,” Labritz said. “I was working on my short game a lot and the results … it's one of those things where you work on things and you expect results right away, but in golf, you almost have to kind of let the results find you instead of you trying to make the results happen.
“I was frustrated out there. I was getting frustrated with what with my finishes were, and I was definitely getting frustrated with my play. I also knew in the bottom of my heart that if I just stuck to what I was doing, it would turn around. Ultimately what I did, towards the end of the season, things started to click, which is nice.”
All of his work on his short game paid off. He felt more comfortable chipping and putting, and even over those pesky bunker shots.
Now he has a new lease on life, literally. He has moved his wife and kids to South Florida from New York after serving as the head pro at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills and will devote himself full time to PGA TOUR Champions while representing GlenArbor as a touring professional.
As for the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, Labritz says bring it on.
“I'm gonna freewheel it this week,” Labritz said. “I don't have to worry about positioning or finishes or anything, so we're gonna go in with a little different attitude. I think it should be a lot of fun.”