WEB.COM TOUR INSIDER
Looking back on the 2017 season
Our digital team reflects on the most memorable moments of the Web.com Tour campaign that was
October 10, 2017
By Kevin Prise, Alex Wood and Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- University of Georgia alum Keith Mitchell finished the Regular Season at No. 26 on the money list. (Ryan Young/PGA TOUR)
They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and considering it seems like just yesterday that I was driving to Knoxville to begin this stage of my career in August 2014, I can personally attest to the cliché.
The year 2017 was similar to most in that it provided a platform for an eclectic mix of rookies and veterans to achieve their PGA TOUR dreams, but the power in covering the Web.com Tour lies in two fundamental truths: it is, in fact, the place where high-level golf dreams are realized; and although the basic story stays the same each year, the faces and personalities always change.
This means that there’s never a dull moment covering the Tour. Each individual tournament provides an opportunity for players to realize a career goal, and the sense of optimism and freshness that permeates the Tour is difficult to replicate elsewhere.
The point of this preamble? The task of picking five memories that highlight the year is not an easy one.
But our Web.com Tour digital team – Alex Wood, Adam Stanley and myself – decided to give it our best shot. --Kevin Prise (@WebTourKevin)
Chesson Hadley interviews fellow Web.com Tour graduates
1. Mitchell secures first TOUR card. One of my most unique memories covering the Web.com Tour came at the 2016 season-opening Panama Claro Championship, when I met Keith Mitchell upon the conclusion of his final round, as he had taken full advantage of a sponsor invite by finishing inside the top-25 to play his way into the next event.
I’m always fairly nervous to approach a player for the first time, but Mitchell instantly made me comfortable with his trademark boyish sense of humor, and he thanked me for my work covering the Tour.
Fast forward to this fall, and Mitchell was on the cusp of his first TOUR card at the Regular Season-ending WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft-Heinz. A short missed birdie on the 70th hole, a birdie putt that hung agonizingly on the lip at the 71st, and a disappointing par on the 72nd hole (the reachable par-5 18th at Pumpkin Ridge GC’s Witch Hollow track) despite having a mid-iron approach on his second shot … it added up to missing a TOUR card by one shot.
One of the most intriguing storylines for the Web.com Tour Finals was how Mitchell would respond, and he impressed early with a T6 at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. It was close to securing his TOUR card, but not quite enough.
Two weeks later, the 25-year-old University of Georgia alum removed all shred of doubt with a T6 at the DAP Championship outside Cleveland, and as he putted out at the closing hole, he knew it.
Mitchell’s sister had drove down from Canada for the occasion, and observing the post-round interaction between the siblings, as well as several other friends and well-wishers, was a special scene.
Upon signing his scorecard, Mitchell brought me the tear strip from his final-round scorecard, along with the hat and glove used on this career-changing day.
In a couple of decades, the World Golf Hall of Fame just might have use for such mementos.
2. Lunch with Silverman. This year’s Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper was marked by bipolar weather, necessitating the second round to be completed on Saturday, and a marathon Sunday that featured nearly 36 holes for some.
Entering the week, Canadian Ben Silverman was a name to watch, as his wife Morgan had recently given birth to their first son, Jack Palmer, and the event at Highland Springs CC marked his first start since becoming a dad.
Silverman, 29, moved into contention with a second-round 63 (I arrived at the ninth green, his final hole, just in time to capture his closing birdie), and I was lucky enough to share lunch with him afterward, where he provided a dose of perspective on how life changes so quickly when you become a parent.
Mixed in with the usual small talk on other sports, travel, Springfield, etc, he spoke of realizing that golf isn’t the most important thing anymore, and that although it’s not difficult to maintain the necessary focus on the course, he now finds it much easier to switch gears once he signs his scorecard – and not dwell excessively on the round that was, which is in fact in the past, and cannot be changed anyway.
Silverman backed up his second-round 63 with another 63, and a closing 67, to capture his first career Web.com Tour title – and an eventual spot in The 25.
Ben Silverman interview after winning Price Cutter
3. A Boilermaker breaks out. The Web.com Tour provides a merit-based structure where those who play well can earn starts for the remainder of the season by stringing top-25 finishes, as J.T Poston did in 2016, beginning the year as a non-member and earning a PGA TOUR card.
Purdue alum Tyler Duncan was a similar case in 2017, as the Indiana native entered the year with conditional status after finishing No. 86 on last year’s money list, knowing he needed to take advantage of his limited opportunities to piece together a schedule.
After playing three PGA TOUR Latinoamerica events earlier this season, Duncan seized the day at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, finishing T3 to earn a spot at the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation – where he placed T2 to secure a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals.
I met Duncan at Final Stage of Q-School in December 2014, and remember perceiving him as a shy, quiet type. Fast-forward three years, and although the 28-year-old may be soft-spoken, he has plenty of personality.
It all coalesced at the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft Nabisco, which he entered fresh off his bachelor party – “a lot of trash-talking, wagers and shotgunned beers” – and joking that maybe he needed to find a bachelor party more often, considering he attended one the weekend prior to his runner-up at the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
Duncan finished fourth in Boise to secure his first TOUR card, and he celebrated as a true Purdue Boilermaker would: joining fellow Indianans Adam Schenk and Chris Baker in a Boilermaker (beer and whiskey) toast.
I thought back to my initial impressions three years prior, and could only shake my head and smile.
4. Hadley’s car hijinks. Georgia Tech alum Chesson Hadley had a memorable and successful Web.com Tour season by any measure. He won a Regular Season event (the LECOM Health Challenge), a Finals event (the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft Nabisco), had two playoff losses, and secured the No. 1 spot on The 25 and The Finals 25 money lists.
For all his on-course success and trademark finger-snapping, though, the endearing memory of Hadley as he departs for the PGA TOUR is that of a fun-loving, very real person who appreciates his life as a professional golfer and makes sure to embrace it every day. Someone who ‘gets it.’
Nowhere was this more apparent than during an opening-round rain delay at the Price Cutter Charity Championship Presented by Dr Pepper. Hadley had taken the (very) early lead, and as he returned to his car in the Highland Springs CC parking lot, he realized that he had left his keys inside. Both sets.
Rather than panic, though, Hadley gave a good-natured interview where he poked fun at himself, then proceeded to find a coat hanger in the locker room and try to pry his way into the car. Unsuccessfully, Hadley waited for AAA to save the day, and all was well.
In a golf career where emotions can shift rapidly, it’s important to not sweat the small stuff. Hadley certainly doesn’t, and it will serve him well.
5. Atkins breaks through in Mexico. I wasn’t on-site for this year’s El Bosque Mexico Championship by INNOVA, but following along from the production desk as Matt Atkins chased his first career Web.com Tour title at El Bosque CC provided a certain level of intrigue.
It was the summer before where Atkins, 26, invited me into his professional world, to caddie at the LECOM Health Challenge and write about it. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my career, providing a tangible window into the mind of a high-level touring pro in the heat of competition.
At the time, Atkins was on the cusp of securing a TOUR card after several strong early-season results, but he missed the cut by a shot with me as caddie, and he wasn’t able to do quite enough at season’s end to finish inside The 25 or The Finals 25.
With a significant purse up for grabs in Mexico, we knew that a win at El Bosque CC would position Atkins very well to earn his first TOUR card.
As he navigated the back nine, I was able to draw on my caddying memories to envision his thought process and perspective as he chased and ultimately secured the title – and eventually, a spot in The 25.
Matt Atkins interview after winning El Bosque Mexico Championship
During the course of my senior year at Georgia Tech, I was asked the dreaded “where do you want to be in five years?” question more times than I can count. Each time, I countered with a well-rehearsed spiel about how it was my dream to someday travel and cover the Web.com Tour (an answer which, at a predominantly engineering-focused school, was often met with a look of confusion).
Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that answer to come to fruition just two weeks after I walked across the graduation stage.
The 2017 BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation kicked off my time covering the Tour and began what would later become one of the most memorable five-month stretches in my lifetime.
Between tournaments I covered on-site, stories I had the chance to help tell on the website, and events I helped cover from home, it seems almost impossible to narrow down my favorite moments to just five, but as that’s the name of the game, here goes nothing. --Alex Wood (@WebTourAlex)
WinCo Foods Portland Open, Final Round recap
1. Griffin becomes a star in Nashville. A maiden victory on the Web.com Tour is emotional for just about anyone, but for Lanto Griffin, his win at the Nashville Golf Open Benefitting the Snedeker Foundation was the culmination – and validation – of a lengthy grind that almost didn’t continue.
Griffin spent seven years grinding it out before making it to the Web.com Tour and though he tried, the beginning of the 2017 season didn’t point to a promising year for the 29-year-old. Griffin made the cut on the number in Nashville and after tying the course record with a bogey-free 62 in the third round, found himself only one shot off the lead heading into Sunday.
The final round would be hit with several rain delays, during which Griffin found himself hoping the day would get rained out, resulting in a high-enough finish for him to lock up a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals and exempt status for the following year. The round wouldn’t get rained out, however, and Griffin would do what not even he was sure he was capable of – win.
The win moved Griffin from No. 135 on the money list to inside The 25. He went on to notch two more top-10 finishes and earn his PGA TOUR card for the 2017-18 season.
Not a bad rookie year.
Lanto Griffin overcomes obstacles, doubts to earn first PGA TOUR card
2. Tracy’s hole-out heard around the world. While this moment came before I’d even interviewed with the Tour, it’s hands-down one of my favorite stories of the season and one I remember following as a fan.
Ethan Tracy had missed the first two cuts of the season, and was entering the week at the Club Colombia Championship by Servientrega in search of something that would get his season started. The 27-year-old opened with rounds of 69-69-68 to put himself in a good spot on Sunday, but it was the 72nd hole that led him to his first victory.
Tracy dunked a wedge for eagle from 101 yards to force a playoff with Roberto Diaz, which he would eventually win via a birdie on the second hole.
The win shot Tracy up the money list and put him in a position to later finish inside The 25. He then got to return to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, for the first Web.com Tour Finals event with a TOUR card in hand. Talk about heartwarming.
Top Shot: Ethan Tracy at Club Colombia, Round 4
3. Hadley’s “black-out” in New York. Chesson Hadley was one of the first people I met my first day on-site with the Tour. From the get-go, he was a warm, welcoming presence on Tour and was the kind of guy you knew deserved to catch a break at some point in the season.
That break came in a big way for the 30-year-old at the LECOM Health Challenge. A final-round, 7-under 65 moved Hadley to 23-under for the tournament, setting a new 72-hole tournament record and earning him his first victory in almost three years. The win solidified his position in The 25 and his return to the PGA TOUR.
What made the moment memorable, though, was the authenticity in Hadley’s reaction. After sinking his putt for par, he brought his hat down over his face as tears began to fall. He spoke after the win about the struggles he’d faced going from winning on TOUR and being named PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year to being back on the Web.com Tour and struggling with having enough confidence in himself to pick himself up and try again.
Watching Hadley’s reaction, with his wife and children there by his side, was almost enough to make me tear up (which I rarely do) and is a moment I will never forget.
4. Mitchell fights his way to PGA TOUR. There was little doubt about whether or not Keith Mitchell would earn his PGA TOUR card during the 2017 season. The only real question was when.
Watching Mitchell miss his chance by a shot in Portland was heartbreaking, but when the University of Georgia grad claimed an early lead the next week at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, it was clear that he wasn’t going to let finishing at No. 26 in the Regular Season stop him. Instead, the finish fueled Mitchell’s flame in the Web.com Tour Finals, leading him to two T6 finishes and the PGA TOUR card that had been just out of reach a few weeks prior.
Being there as Mitchell stepped off the green after his 72nd hole at the DAP Championship, knowing he’d solidified a spot on the PGA TOUR, was a truly special moment, and a good reminder that even the most unfortunate of circumstances can be turned into momentum for the future.
5. Gooch earns an orange jacket. Talor Gooch had already proven he had what it took to succeed on the Web.com Tour before he began play at the News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot. He had seven top-25 finishes already under his belt, including a second-place finish the week before. The 25-year-old opened play with stellar rounds of 66-67-68 to put himself only five shots back of the lead heading into Sunday.
In an interview after his second round, Gooch opened up about the financial struggles he’d experienced throughout his golf journey – specifically a moment during the Second Stage of Q-School where he considered getting a part-time job, or even becoming an Uber driver, to help cover his basic expenses. He talked about the sacrifices his family had made since his junior golf days to help him get to where he was, and how he was fortunate beyond belief to be in the position he found himself in. The realness of the moment was almost unbelievable.
Gooch went on to shoot a final-round, 6-under 65 on Sunday to win by a shot. On the bag that week? None other than his mentor since childhood, Kelsey Cline.
The win locked up Gooch’s first PGA TOUR card and was proof that hard work and perseverance truly do pay off in the end.
Talor Gooch interview after winning News Sentinel
Although I didn’t get to as many Web.com Tour events as my colleagues Kevin and Alex this year, I felt just as close to the players and the storylines as ever, as I usually caught up with guys about 30 minutes after their victories, after they had a chance to realize what had just happened.
Or I’d be on the phone with them for a lengthy bout of time, drawing out stories from their past as they looked to the future for some of the longer work that appeared on the Web.com Tour’s website in 2017.
All that to say: these guys are good. They’re fun to talk to. They make my job as a writer easy, because they are willing to talk about their lives and their friends and their families and then a little bit about golf for good measure.
I certainly had my favorite Web.com Tour stories in 2017, but these are my five favorite moments. --Adam Stanley (@Adam_Stanley)
1. Lashley does it for family. I had the opportunity to go to one Web.com Tour event this year on-site, the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. The windswept paradise featured perfect – albeit incredibly hot – weather all week along, and made for a wonderful escape from Canada, which, at the time, was still recovering from the last of winter’s wrath. The tournament was won by Nate Lashley in emotional fashion, as he fired a 6-under-par 66 on Sunday to win by one. While most of the crowd was cheering for somewhat local favorite Rafa Campos from nearby Puerto Rico, it was Lashley who won the day.
Lashley’s girlfriend and parents were killed in a plane crash a few years ago, and to see him win one for them, admitting he knew they were watching over him while he did it, was quite the scene.
Lashley would go on to finish in The 25 and earn his PGA TOUR card for 2017-18.
2. Piller wins husband of the year. After a victory on the Web.com Tour moved Martin Piller to within shouting distance of The 25, most in his place would have a laser-like focus on the next week, and try to parlay one great finish into another solid one so then he could earn his PGA TOUR card once again.
Piller’s wife, Gerina, had made the Solheim Cup on the LPGA Tour and had the opportunity to represent the United States, and Martin would be there in person. He forfeited his spot at the News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot to go cheer her on (the United States was victorious) and in doing so, put lots of other husbands to shame with his selfless move.
He would go on to earn a TOUR card via the Web.com Tour Finals, so karma ended up treating him well in the end.
Martin Piller joined by wife Gerina as he chases PGA TOUR card
3. Mitchell’s determination. Keith Mitchell was probably the happiest guy on the 2017 Web.com Tour, and only once this year did I not see him with a smile on his face.
Admitting he was the victim of ‘bad information’ on the 72nd hole of the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft-Heinz, he tried going for the hero play on No. 18 at Pumpkin Ridge’s Witch Hollow course, and ended up finishing just one shot back of earning a TOUR card via The 25.
He would go on to take the first-round lead the next week, and we all thought a Cinderella story was in the works. Though he didn’t win, he ended up earning his TOUR card after notching two ties for sixth in the Web.com Tour Finals.
The smile was back. Mitchell is a fun-loving, food-loving beauty, and it was a pleasure to interview him a handful of times in 2017 for stories not only on him, but on his high school pal Stephan Jaeger as well.
4. McInerney survives. The off-season of the Web.com Tour is supposed to be focused on the good-news stories of the previous 10 months, and a look ahead to the names making their way through Q-School – some of whom will be forces on the Web.com Tour the following year.
But that all took a backseat when bullets flew in Las Vegas in October, and a member of the Web.com Tour family found himself in the crossfire.
A.J. McInerney made it out alive, along with all his family and friends who were at the concert on the night the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history took place, and now he’s trying to re-focus his efforts on golf, as he’s heading to Second Stage next month.
He took a good chunk of time to talk to me about the horror he experienced that night at the concert, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to tell his story.
5. Canadian Connections. What more can I say: I guess we Canadians like Springfield, Missouri.
A year ago, Mackenzie Hughes used Highland Springs Country Club’s caddie master, Terry Frost on his bag en route to victory after he birdied the 72nd hole, moving to 14th on the Web.com Tour money list.
This summer, after becoming a father for the first time, Ben Silverman chose to use Frost on his bag as well. A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Silverman his first Web.com Tour victory and moved him to 16th on the Web.com Tour money list.
Silverman, who is 29, took a bit of a roundabout path to get to the PGA TOUR, but his victory in Springfield propelled him to the best four-week stretch in his professional career.
He made his first cut on TOUR last week at the Safeway Open, and I’m sure he’ll be giving out Frost’s phone number to the other Canadians on the Web.com Tour in 2018, to see if we can make it three-in-a-row.