Our digital team reflects on the most memorable and heartwarming moments of the 2018 Web.com Tour season-that-was
October 10, 2018
By Alex Wood and Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
Our digital team reflects on the most memorable and heartwarming moments of the 2018 Web.com Tour season-that-was
Editor’s note: It’s never easy to condense an always-eclectic Web.com Tour season into a handful of memories. But that’s the challenge we present to Web.com Tour digital hosts Alex Wood and Kevin Prise.
Fans, what are your top memories of the 2018 Web.com Tour season? Reply in the comments below.
I remember sitting down to reflect on the 2017 season last fall thinking there was no way a season could top the one I’d just experienced. Now here I am, at the close of my second season with the Web.com Tour, and all I can say is BOY was I wrong! This year was a flurry of adventure that took me to Panama, Colombia, Mexico and then back to the states to traverse both coasts.
Between the tournaments I covered on-site and the ones I watched from home, it’s nearly impossible to pen just five top moments from a year that was full of excitement, drama, fulfilled dreams and loads of #WebTourTacos. I’ve been told, though, that I don’t have a say in extending the number to 100.
So here goes nothing …
It’s hard not to like Chris Thompson.
The Kansas native is the epitome of a journeyman. Thompson graduated from the University of Kansas in 1999 after a stellar collegiate career in which he won two individual titles, a Big 12 Championship, and was twice named an All-American. He turned his sights to professional golf, where he spent the next 19 years grinding, chasing an elusive PGA TOUR card. Thompson’s hard work paid off big time in 2019, as he picked up a career-best nine top-25 finishes in 24 starts, good for a spot in The 25 and his first TOUR card.
I remember standing at the card ceremony in Portland as Steve Burkowski called Thompson across the green to collect his card and graduate from the Web.com Tour. The roar from the crowd was unlike anything I’ve ever heard and even as I’m writing this I can feel the goosebumps coming back. Here’s to never giving up on your dreams.
I might be a bit biased on this one, but as a Georgia Tech alum myself, it’s always nice to see Yellow Jackets have success. This year saw four Jackets earn PGA TOUR cards via the Regular Season and the Finals, two of those (Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves) for the first time.
Albertson was one of the first people I met my first day on-site with the Tour in 2017. He quickly became a friendly familiar face, which made his win at the Lincoln Land Championship presented by LRS even more exciting. The 25-year-old went on to have a remarkable streak of 41 rounds of par or better (the longest on Tour in 2018) and secure his first PGA TOUR card via The 25. Sitting down to get quotes from Albertson in Portland for my old hometown newspaper and my alma mater’s website was surreal – as was seeing him and his friends/family celebrate!
While Reeves didn’t secure his card via the Regular Season, his late-season hot streak continued into the Finals. A T5 at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship all but locked up his first TOUR card, and a T4 the following week solidified it. The video of Albertson interviewing Reeves at the DAP Championship presented by NewBrick in Cleveland, shortly after Reeves secured his card, might go down as one of my favorites of the year. #TogetherWeSwarm
There’s always an element of drama surrounding the final spot of The 25 and The Finals 25, and this year was no different.
In Portland, Tour rookie Hank Lebioda entered the week inside of the top 25 but finished the final round and was forced to sit and wait, watching as his projected number moved up and down. Even though his first PGA TOUR card was hanging in the balance, Lebioda was cool and collected (probably more so than anyone on-site). I was walking inside the clubhouse as his spot in The 25 was solidified and watched as he and his family jumped up to hug each other. Shortly before the card ceremony, I talked to him about the experience and his journey to get there, and watching him tear up was almost enough to make me do the same.
That drama continued into the Finals, where Jim Knous was forced to wait and see if his finish was enough to earn him the 25th and final card available for grabs. Knous, who is arguably one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, had a lights-out 2018 and to see it all come to fruition at the end of the season was incredible. Knous earned his first PGA TOUR card in Atlantic Beach, with his parents in the gallery, and is now the first Colorado School of Mines graduate with full-time status on the PGA TOUR. Here’s to one Helluva Engineer (and a Helluva golfer too!).
While ClubProGuy may be a self-proclaimed Mexican mini-tour legend, I think it’s fair to say that Jose de Jesus Rodriguez (El Camaron) may really own the moniker. Rodriguez entered this season with 17 international victories, four PGA TOUR Latinoamérica victories and a Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada win. He stands as the all-time career money leader on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and was their 2017 Order of Merit winner/Player of the Year.
But he hadn’t been able to continue that success stateside. Until this year.
I was there for Rodriguez’s win at the United Leasing & Finance Championship, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone so happy after a victory. The Irapuato, Mexico, native didn’t even know he’d won the title until his final putt dropped and his caddie told him the news – he was a winner on the Web.com Tour. He has one of the most infectious, friendly demeanors and I can’t wait to watch his infamous “ball talking” on the PGA TOUR.
The Web.com Tour has always had a family feel to it. For the most part, everyone knows each other and does whatever they can to make the other feel welcome. Never was that family feel more prevalent than when the Tour rallied around one of their own this season.
Scott Harrington has been a staple of the Web.com Tour for far longer than I have, having made 171 career starts. When news came out that his wife’s cancer had returned in May, and that Scott would be taking a leave from professional golf to be with Jenn as she battled, the Tour wasted no time in reminding the couple that they were cared about and continually thought of.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help try and offset the costs of treatment and recovery. Players began pledging donations per birdies and eagles. Stephen Curry and Ellie Mae offered donations of their own. Before the 2018 Web.com Tour season was over, the Harringtons had exceeded the $150,000 needed for Jenn’s treatment. They then announced that any additional funds raised through the remainder of the season would be redirected to the Portland-based Children’s Cancer Association.
What an honor it is to be a part of the #WebTour family.
Some things change, some things stay the same.
As I departed the Atlantic Beach CC media center last month, upon the conclusion of the Web.com Tour Championship, it occurred to me that I had just completed my fifth Web.com Tour season with the PGA TOUR. I thought back to my first Web.com Tour Championship in 2014, departing the TPC Sawgrass media center and preparing for a 16-hour drive home to Buffalo, New York.
The course was different. The players were different. The commute home was different (I now live in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and the drive back to my house would take a mere 16 minutes, not hours.)
But the vibe was the same. Much of it celebratory, as 50 players had just received PGA TOUR cards and would be preparing to play at the highest level of golf within days. Some of it, though, heart-wrenching, as a handful of players had arrived at the final few holes with the chance to fulfill TOUR dreams, only to come up just short.
Each season on the Web.com Tour presents a fresh slate for players to finish in The 25 or The Finals 25 and secure a TOUR card, bringing with it a gamut of emotions throughout the year, as players navigate a journey across time zones and cultures, as they battle against golf courses and themselves.
The stories differ, but the emotions remain constant, leading to countless memories each autumn when I reflect on the season-that-was.
Here are five I’ll take away from 2018.
Josh Teater has gained a legion of fans through his 18-year career in professional golf, as the 39-year-old has carried a positive, friendly demeanor across the ups and downs of a demanding, travel-based lifestyle.
The Morehead State alum was a PGA TOUR regular from 2010-14, but lost full status and has spent much of the past four seasons on the Web.com Tour, full-time from 2016-18, determined to regain his spot at the highest level of the game.
Teater has made an effort over the past three seasons to befriend younger players, offer advice and support when he can, and countless young pros have embraced him in return.
Rather than express any form of self-pity, the Kentucky native went to work, determined to regain his place on TOUR – and determined to enjoy the experience while doing so. He had spent several years on mini-tours before reaching the TOUR, and never took the opportunity to play professional golf for granted.
Teater secured his spot in The 25 with a runner-up finish at the Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae, leading to one of the most emotional interviews I’ve had the pleasure of conducting.
“It took me six years to even get to this Tour,” said Teater. “Seven tries at Q-School, to get out here in ’09. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of it. I’ve befriended a lot of people that will be friends forever. Just tried to lend an eye and a hand when I can, and help out. Good to see some of those guys going to.”
It was a heartwarming moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Michael Arnaud accepts the label of ‘journeyman’ to describe his professional golf career, and it has been quite the journey.
The 37-year-old has played pro golf since 2004, on a variety of mini-tours, and has held all sorts of odd jobs from waiting tables to serving as a television and movie extra.
Arnaud’s spot at this year’s BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation could parallel that ‘extra’ role, as he traveled to a mini-tour event early in the week, only to divert when learning he was a high alternate to earn a tee time in Greenville, South Carolina.
When Kent Bulle withdrew due to injury, Arnaud – who entered the season with conditional status after finishing T57 at Final Stage of Q-School – was in. It was just his second start of the season, and he knew he needed to make the most of it.
All Arnaud did was shoot rounds of 69-60-65-63, including an 8-under 27 on his front nine Friday, en route to a five-shot win and fully exempt Web.com Tour status through 2019.
No more schedule uncertainty, a few days after being uncertain of where he’d be playing that week.
Things can change in a hurry in professional golf, a sentiment of which Arnaud’s tale will always serve as a microcosm.
When Joseph Bramlett hit the green in regulation on the 36th hole of this year’s Panama Championship, he went to his caddie/swing coach John Scott Rattan for an embrace.
The well-struck approach ensured that Bramlett would play the weekend at Panama GC. A small step in his quest to regain TOUR status, but a significant one in his journey.
After a standout collegiate career at Stanford, Bramlett successfully navigated the PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament in his first foray, earning TOUR status for 2011. After an up-and-down rookie season, he spent the next year-and-a-half on the Web.com Tour, until his back gave out on the range one summer day in 2013.
This led to a frustrating four-and-a-half years of seeking expert opinion, various rehabilitation methods, constant debate of whether or not to get surgery, and not much golf.
Between the injury in July 2013, and his comeback in Panama this past February, he made just three Tour starts (in spring 2016) before having to again shut it down.
Bramlett opted against surgery, deciding to rebuild a swing that now minimizes the stress on his lower back, and played a full Web.com Tour schedule in 2018 that brought a high level of consistency – and nearly a PGA TOUR card.
The California native recorded 13 top-25s in 23 starts, finishing No. 27 on The 25 and then No. 32 on The Finals 25.
Agonizing to be so close, to be sure. But he enjoyed the experience throughout his comeback season, and he proved to himself and his fans that his rebuilt swing can indeed hold up. Next year, he can tee it up all-systems-go as he eyes a spot in The 25.
And if Bramlett proceeds to earn that TOUR return, I’ll think back to that low-key Friday in Panama, where he proved that his comeback could indeed be a competitive one.
After shooting a respectable 74-74 in his Ellie Mae Classic debut in 2017, Golden State Warriors All-Star guard Stephen Curry once again returned to TPC Stonebrae in 2018, bringing a demographic of fan not usually seen on our Tour.
Curry displayed a well-rounded game in his 2017 debut, and early in the week, anticipation grew as to how he’d fare.
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player started slow in the opening round at TPC Stonebrae, but maintained a jovial attitude throughout, interacting with playing partners Martin Trainer and Cameron Champ, who in turn were soaking in the experience.
(Curry even gave a thumbs-up in the background of my live hit on his second hole Thursday, No. 11, prompting an animated reaction from PGA TOUR LIVE hosts Jonathan Coachman and Paul Stankowski.)
The Davidson College alum was 4-over through 11 holes, steady but by no means spectacular. He’d do well to match his opening 74 from the previous year.
Then one of the all-time most prolific three-point shooters, to say the least, heated up. Curry put on a ball-striking clinic over the final seven holes, with seven consecutive birdie looks inside 20 feet. He clawed his way back to a 1-over 71, and went into Friday with a legitimate chance to make the cut and play the weekend.
The second round fell short of the same magic (16-over 86), but the 24 hours of buzz around Curry’s weekend chances -- from Thursday afternoon through Friday morning -- bordered on the magical. A transcendent athlete from another major sport, in his prime, testing his golf game against some of the world’s best, and undoubtedly receiving a passing grade.
Justin Lower made birdie on his final hole at Final Stage of the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament last December to secure eight guaranteed starts in 2018, his eighth year as a pro.
The Malone University alum epitomized the grind of professional golf, having played on a variety of mini-tours across the country as he chases his PGA TOUR dreams. He had played parts of three Web.com Tour seasons prior, but never a full season, and never finishing inside the top 100 on the money list to maintain membership.
Lower’s fortunes began to change at this year’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by NACHER, where he fired a closing 64 to finish solo third. The finish meant he was essentially assured of Web.com Tour starts for the remainder of the season, and he’d have the chance to plan a year-long schedule for the first time.
During Lower’s post-round interview, it was easy to see how much the moment meant.
“To be here with my best finish, it’s pretty fulfilling for sure,” said Lower, the emotion palpable in his voice. “You can’t even explain (the fine line) … I wish someone would write a book of all the stories that guys have about missing it by a shot or making it by a shot, because I think it would give people a much better perspective of how tough this actually is, and how much time we put into it, and how much of a grind it is.
“Because even though it’s a lot of fun, it is very hard at the same time.”
The 29-year-old went on to produce his best Web.com Tour season, finishing No. 62 on the Regular Season money list and earning a Finals berth for the first time. At the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship, he arrived at the 72nd hole needing a birdie to secure his first PGA TOUR card.
He gave himself a putt inside 10 feet. The putt lipped out.
A poignant full-circle moment, realizing that six months prior, Lower had foreshadowed this type of moment.
For the first time, though, Lower was able to take solace in the fact that he wouldn’t have to go back to Q-School. He’d be fully exempt on the Web.com Tour for 2019, and he could spend the offseason fully focused on improving his game, rather than navigating the rigors of Q-School.
He congratulated good friend Jim Knous, who secured the 25th and final TOUR card via The Finals 25.
And in 2019, he’ll hope to be on the right side of that fine line he knows so well.
"I wish someone would write a book of all the stories guys have ... missing it by a shot, or making it by a shot."@JustinLower_1 rode that fine line in 2018.— Web.com Tour (@WebDotComTour) October 9, 2018
For the first time in his pro career, though, he won't have to attend Q-School.
He'll chase a @PGATOUR card in 2019. pic.twitter.com/L8YPRiKbKz