Notes: Slocum geared up to fight for his card
August 27, 2014
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- August 27, 2014
- (Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Heath Slocum has been around the block a few times. The Louisiana native held full PGA TOUR status from 2002 to 2012, winning four times and earning over $1 million in seven consecutive seasons.
Slocum played the Web.com Tour predominantly in 2013, and he re-earned TOUR status through the inaugural Web.com Tour Finals, when he missed the cut at the Hotel Fitness Championship but placed in the top 20 in the next three Finals events.
The South Alabama grad struggled somewhat on TOUR this season, and he’s back in the Finals after finishing No. 129 in the FedExCup Standings. However, Slocum arrived at Sycamore Hills GC in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with a good bit of momentum. He finished solo fourth at the TOUR’s Wyndham Championship two weeks ago, his first top-10 finish on TOUR since 2011.
Slocum is geared up, ready to fight to regain his TOUR status over the next four weeks.
“My game has felt like it’s been coming together for a little while now,” Slocum said. “I just hadn’t put all the pieces together. I kind of just let it go that week at the Wyndham. I relaxed and had some fun, and it translated into better golf, which translates into more fun. That will be the goal this week and moving forward, to relax and just play golf.”
Last year at Sycamore Hills GC, Slocum shot even-par 144 and missed the cut by three shots. After completing his pro-am round on Wednesday, he said he liked the changes made to the course in its recent renovation, and that he’s looking forward to this week’s challenge.
After the missed cut last year, Slocum heated up with a T8 at the Chiquita Classic, and he backed it up with a pair of T17s to lock up his card. He credits a hot putter, and he knows that strong putting will be required if he hopes to make it back on TOUR – in addition to other things.
“The key to these four weeks, for me, is going to be keeping the driver in play,” Slocum said. “The irons have to be good but not great, but yeah, you’re going to have to make putts out here. There’s just so much talent. It’s so deep.”
When the Finals debuted last year, players were still learning the money and seeding structure, Slocum said. With one year down, the picture is becoming clearer, and Slocum said players are beginning to realize the true importance of playing well every week.
One great week might be enough to secure a TOUR card, but it’s still in players’ best interest to keep playing well so that they earn the highest possible Priority Ranking for the 2014-15 season.
“I think that what everybody learned from last year is that the better you finish, it’s going to matter a great deal going into the first few events of the season,” Slocum said. “You can’t just have one good finish and kind of coast. You’ve got to keep grinding.”
It had been a while since Slocum had been in contention coming down the back nine on Sunday, but he hung in there at Wyndham, making two birdies and an eagle in his final six holes. Knowing he needed to birdie No. 18 to force a playoff with Camilo Villegas, he was aggressive on his birdie putt and ultimately bogeyed to finish two back.
Still, his fourth-place finish brought a payday of over $250,000 – and plenty of confidence moving into the Finals. “I was in such a good mental state there all week,” Slocum said. “I hit a couple of bad shots coming in and three-putted the last, but I never even thought about the three-putt aspect of it; I was just trying to get into a playoff. What we do for a living, that’s when it’s most fun, is when you get a little nervousness in the gut and you get a bit anxious. That’s what it’s all about; it’s the feeling that I love.”
“I would love to come down 18 Sunday having that same feeling in my stomach. That means it’s been a pretty good week.”
HART BATTLING BACK: PGA TOUR veteran Dudley Hart is teeing it up in the Web.com Tour Finals, and as of a few weeks ago, he didn’t even know he was eligible.
"Two weeks ago, I got a call from our TOUR office," Hart said. "They said, 'If you want to go, and you’re physically able, you're in.'" So Hart made the trip from his home outside Buffalo, New York, to Sycamore Hills GC for his first TOUR-sanctioned event since the RBC Heritage in April.
Hart, 46, has been battling back injuries for the past four years (and a hand injury recently), and he earned a place in the Finals via a TOUR medical extension, under which he has eight more starts to earn just over $400,000 and keep his TOUR card.
Under the extension, Hart was eligible to play in the Finals without using up any of his eight starts on TOUR. Consequently, the decision to play the Hotel Fitness Championship was easy.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Hart said. “There’s only upside. I can get back to playing, test my back, test my game, mentally get back into it. That’s the toughest thing when you haven’t played for a while, is just to mentally get that concentration level and thinking the right way. I’m really looking forward to getting back at it.”
Hart was originally planning to make a return at the Wyndham Championship two weeks ago, but he fractured his finger about five weeks ago and had to re-evaluate. He then figured that he would wait until the TOUR season resumes in October – until he learned he could play the Finals.
Hart has only played one Web.com Tour event in his career, the 1991 Ben Hogan Lake City Classic, near the University of Florida (where he went to college). It was his rookie year on TOUR and he was fully exempt (he played 31 times), but he didn’t want to miss the chance to visit his college town of Gainesville, Florida.
When Hart returns to the TOUR in October, he will have his work cut out for him in trying to make enough money to stay exempt. The way he looks at it, the Web.com Tour Finals serve as an unexpected way to earn TOUR status apart from the medical extension.
“I figured it’s a great opportunity to not only get my feet wet and play, but it could give me a fallback position – if I play decent – if I don’t make my money on my medical,” Hart said. “A lot of good things can come from it.”
THOMAS STILL SEARCHING FOR WIN: When asked if he had played Sycamore Hills GC prior to this week, Justin Thomas laughed and nodded his head in affirmation. "I shot a round in the 60s, 70s and 80s,” Thomas said.
Thomas has taken the Web.com Tour by storm in his rookie season, finishing under par in all 16 events he has played, making 14 cuts and recording 10 top-25 finishes.
He hasn’t won yet, but he finished runner-up at the El Bosque Mexico Championship in April and third at the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft Nabisco in July.
“It’s been fun; it’s gone by really fast,” Thomas said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the course of the year. I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily played my best, so it’s good that I’ve done as well as I have for just a solid, good game.”
As for his 60s-70s-80s experience, Thomas played in the 2010 Junior PGA Championship at Sycamore Hills as a 17-year-old, and he set the course record at the time with a 65. He stumbled to a 75 in the second round and an 81 in the final round, finishing T24 overall.