Mitchell qualifies for first TOUR event with friends' help
March 08, 2017
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- Keith Mitchell has made the cut in all three of his Web.com Tour starts this season, highlighted by a T5 in Panama. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Editor's note: It was a dream week at the Valspar Championship for Web.com Tour member Keith Mitchell, as he finished T11 in his first career PGA TOUR event.
Mitchell made eagle on his first hole of the week, rolled in a 48-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole, and led the field in driving distance as well as Strokes Gained: Putting.
Perhaps even more impressive, though, is the fact that he overcame a litany of unique situations and obstacles to successfully Monday-qualify into the event.
Even in an individual game such as golf, it’s important to have good friends.
In a sudden-death playoff Tuesday morning at the Valspar Championship’s open qualifier, Keith Mitchell had just rolled in a 25-footer for birdie on the first extra hole to earn a spot in his first PGA TOUR event.
For the 25-year-old Georgia alum, it was an emotional moment, the culmination of years of hard work that have propelled him to strong status on the Web.com Tour, where he’ll try to secure a PGA TOUR card this season.
Mitchell had no time to waste, though. He had just one golf outfit in his possession – the one he was wearing for the second consecutive day – as he had arrived in western Florida for the open qualifier without having packed a full wardrobe for the week, the result of a whirlwind travel itinerary that included a Web.com Tour media obligation in Kansas City as well as a funeral in Baltimore.
So he made a quick phone call to his roommate, fellow professional golfer Cory Whitsett, who packed Mitchell a suitcase and delivered it to fellow Sea Island, Georgia-based TOUR pros who were flying private to the Tampa area for the Valspar Championship.
Mitchell drove an hour from Southern Hills Plantation Club (site of the open qualifier), to the tournament site, Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course, and set up a practice round with his good buddies Trey Mullinax and J.T. Poston.
Midway through the round, Mitchell’s gear was delivered in person.
And that wasn’t even the first instance this week where he received timely aid from a roommate.
The last-minute trip to Baltimore meant that Mitchell wouldn’t be able to return home to Sea Island before the qualifier, so his other roommate Bobby Wyatt (who was also competing in the qualifier and was driving from Sea Island) brought Mitchell’s clubs to west Florida.
“We had a death in the family and I had to make an emergency flight to Baltimore, straight from Kansas City, for the funeral … then I flew from Baltimore to Tampa on Sunday night, and my caddie picked me up at the airport, and Bobby dropped my clubs off at dinner,” Mitchell explained.
“Bobby brought my clubs, and I didn’t even think about anything else, so I only had one golf outfit, and it was what I wore to the media day (in Kansas City), and wore on Monday.”
Not only had he not played a practice round at Southern Hills Plantation Club before teeing it up in the qualifier, Mitchell didn’t even have his golf shoes (a justifiably forgotten item in the whirlwind weekend), but once again he received help from a friend – borrowing the shoes of a buddy who completed his qualifier round before Mitchell teed off, and fortunately wore the same size.
“I just had one golf outfit, and a borrowed pair of golf shoes, and two sleeves of balls,” Mitchell remarked.
Mitchell clearly didn’t let the exterior context rattle him on the course, though, as he made seven birdies and seven pars in his first 14 holes to move to the top of the leaderboard.
The Tennessee native struggled down the stretch, making two bogeys and a par in the next three holes, before losing his ball in the right rough on his final hole, the short par-4 ninth.
As Mitchell prepared to head back to the tee, he asked a rules official where he stood in relation to the rest of the field.
He learned that 4 under might have a chance for a playoff, but 3 under would have no chance. Standing 5 under at the time, he knew he needed to make birdie on his second ball (for a bogey on the scorecard) to have a chance.
After all the adversity of the past few days, Mitchell wasn’t going to let this latest obstacle derail him. He had come too far. He rolled in an 8-footer to earn a spot in a five-man playoff Tuesday morning for the final spot in this week’s field.
It was a low-key Monday night – although he had to do laundry at the hotel, as he still had only the one golf outfit at this point – and when he returned for the sudden-death playoff, he was ready to go.
He calmly rolled in his 25-footer, then watched two of his fellow competitors miss shorter birdie tries – punching his ticket to the Valspar Championship.I just had one golf outfit, and a borrowed pair of golf shoes, and two sleeves of balls.
Mitchell has made the cut in all three of his Web.com Tour starts this season, highlighted by a T5 at the Panama Claro Championship (his career-best Web.com Tour finish), the week after serving as a groomsman in the wedding of his high school friend, TOUR winner Harris English.
His game has been trending upward, and now he’ll get to test it against the world’s best – with clean clothes for the entire week, no less.
“Everybody’s dream is to be a PGA TOUR pro, and it’s nice that I have this opportunity to make it more of a reality,” Mitchell said.
“Instead of always looking up to the Tigers and the Phils of the world, saying, ‘I wish that I could be there; I dream to be there,’ now it has become a reality in that all the hard work and dedication is starting to pay off.
“During this four-week stretch (without a Web.com Tour event), it’s really nice to have an extra tournament to play … not any other tournament, but a PGA TOUR tournament.”
When the dust settled, seemingly the only key possession that hadn’t been transported to Mitchell was his car.
For this week, though, that won’t be a problem. The tournament provided him with a courtesy car.
Welcome to the PGA TOUR, Keith.