Potter takes winding road to winner's circle

By Jason SobelJuly 9, 2012, 1:19 am

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – It’s easy to get turned around on your way to The Greenbrier, Jim Justice’s 6,751-acre resort deep in the rural West Virginia foothills. Even the interstate route is a scenic route, and the scenic route, well, that’s a convolution of twists and turns, up and down and around mountains until the horizon parts and the palatial estate finally emerges into view.

If the journey sounds straight out of a John Denver lyric, there’s good reason, those country roads eventually taking travelers where they belong.

For this week, at least, the circuitous sojourn served as a commanding microcosm for the resort’s eponymous PGA Tour event. There were plenty of twists and turns, things got completely turned around and the leaderboard took a convoluted scenic route to the finish line until finally a champion emerged deep in the foothills.

During a week that started as a celebration of some of the game’s biggest stars traversing that very route to the resort, it quickly became apparent that this tournament would be taking the road less traveled. It began with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both curiously failing to qualify for the weekend rounds; it continued with reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson parlaying a back-nine lead into a seventh-place finish; and it culminated with two unlikely upstarts, each ranked outside the top 200 in the world, duking it out in a playoff to determine the winner.

When the horizon parted and the winner finally came into view, it revealed a rookie named Ted Potter Jr., a soft-spoken ball-striking machine whose pastoral Central Florida roots have bequeathed him more rural than resort.

As if to further the symbolism of this week, Potter’s journey has endured a similar scenic route to success, often climbing some towering mountains that left him lost without a roadmap.

Take the 2004 season, for example. At the age of 20, Potter qualified for full-time status on the erstwhile Nationwide Tour – since renamed the Web.com Tour – where he spent the entire year spinning his wheels. Potter competed in 24 events during that campaign, failing to make a single paycheck and never once posting a score below 70.

“When you’re missing cuts every week, you get down on yourself,” Potter recalled after Sunday’s victory. “I mean, it’s hard to pick yourself back up. But the one plus side for me was, I was still young. I was only 20 years old. I knew I had a long road ahead of me … I just knew I had plenty of time and just be patient and it will come back around again.”

In the years since, Potter became a quixotic case of a player who couldn’t fit in anywhere.

He became a cult hero on the mini-tour NGA Hooters circuit, compiling a dozen victories in the half-dozen years between 2006 and 2011. Yet when he would qualify again for the PGA Tour’s developmental tour, he would again fail to find any semblance of success.

In 2007, Potter competed in 20 tournaments on the Nationwide circuit and made the cut on just three occasions. He earned his card back three years later and again struggled, making just three cuts in 11 starts.

He was officially in golf’s version of purgatory. Too good for one level, not good enough for the other.

That all changed last year. After posting four wins by mid-March on what was then still called the Hooters Tour, Potter was able to Monday qualify for the Nationwide Tour’s South Georgia Classic at the end of April. He won that week, earning full playing privileges once again, then punctuated that victory with another at the Soboba Golf Classic five months later, clinching his first career trip to the big leagues.

It should hardly come as a surprise that once again he failed to find an immediate comfort zone. Potter finished T-13 in his first-ever PGA Tour start at the Sony Open, but followed with missed cuts in nine of his next 14 appearances, with no result better than 30th place.

“I know I can play the game very well,” Potter said of his previous efforts. “I struggled the last few weeks, but I just tried to work on my swing and get it back to where it was feeling, where it was last year out on the Web.com Tour. So I got very close to where it was last year and it felt good. I had a lot of confidence going into this week.”

And it showed. He finished eagle-birdie on Sunday to shoot 6-under 64 and force a playoff with Troy Kelly. After a missing a short birdie attempt on the second extra hole that would have given him the victory, Potter converted a similar opportunity on the next hole hole to complete the circuitous journey from a guy who couldn’t make a single cut on a developmental tour to a PGA Tour champion.

It wasn’t the most direct route to the winner’s circle, but here in the West Virginia foothills there are no direct routes anyway. Whichever road a traveler takes comes sprinkled with various twists and turns until the final destination emerges into view.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.