Officially the 128 assembled Tour types at Walt Disney World Resort played for just a single trophy, yet essentially the rewards were limitless. From every corner of the money list, from every turn of the tee sheet, battles large and small were won and, more often than not, lost on Sunday at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
Rich Beem began the final day tied for 31st and was projected outside the top 125 in earnings (128th). He’d panicked his way through a Friday 73, got a pep talk from his swing coach Cameron Doan before Round 3 and gutted out a 68-68 weekend that felt like a pair of 59s.
“Panic set in a little bit,” Beem admitted. “I was fixated on keeping my job, going to Hawaii (Sony Open), the Bob Hope. When someone tells you you can’t do your job next year it’s not a very good feeling.”
With that “Beemer” turned to the ever-changing scoring computer, which listed the former PGA champion at 125th in earnings. “I can’t handle this boys,” he sighed. “I got to go have a beer.”
All total it was a good day for former car stereo salesmen and beer vendors, as the unnerved became unhinged.
Jimmy Walker was headed for an adult beverage of his own, cruising along at 5 under through 16 holes and safely inside the money Mendoza Line when he followed a bad swing thought with a bad swing and a three-putt for double-bogey.
The par-4 17th was the final Kodak Challenge offering of the season, and Walker was a perfect snapshot of what happens to normally mild-mannered men when your job depends on how well you negotiate the final 492 yards of the final tournament.
It is, of course, the acme of foolishness to fixate on the last hole of the season. Of the 1,332 holes Walker played in 2009 there are as many “what ifs” as there were swings. In Tampa he was forced to withdraw with a neck injury before the final round, missing out on a check of any kind that would have made Disney a layup, not a lay-awake-at-night week.
Walker didn’t make things easy at the last hole. He missed the fairway right, the green right and ran his chip 5 feet by the hole. The clichés were ubiquitous. “Get up there, rock the shoulders and keep your head down. Left center,” he breathed deeply.
James Edmondson, the caddie for Ryan Palmer who played college golf with Walker’s looper Andy Sanders, inched to the edge of his seat: “You make these in your sleep, don’t you?” he asked. Or your nightmares.
Walker made the par save and took Beem’s place at the computer. He moved to 124th in earnings. Then No. 125. By the time the computer stop adding, Walker’s name remained inside the bubble, his hand wrapped firmly around a Bud Light and that flight home to San Antonio suddenly felt a lot shorter.
Nicholas Thompson was already headed home to south Florida by the time the processors stopped, similarly unaware of his 2010 status following an equally eventful finish.
After Thompson’s drive at the last settled between roots right of the fairway, he pulled a 6-iron, settled over the ball and swung hard neither concerned nor mindful of potential injury.
“I planned on this being my last tournament of the year,” he smiled widely. “I knew (par) would get me golden and (bogey) would probably do it.”
Following a blistering start, Thompson said he figured he needed to make about $100,000 to avoid a return to Q-School: “I went to Georgia Tech I can do the calculations on the fly,” he said during a five-minute interview during which he dropped from 123rd in earnings to 125th. He eventually settled in at No. 123.
Yet for every Walker and Thompson there were more than enough David Duvals and Robert Garriguses to go around.
Duval missed the cut and tumbled from 125th to 130th, while Garrigus also watched from his couch as he slid from 123rd to 127th.
Jeff Maggert, who putted like he had a pair of those thick white Mickey Mouse gloves on coming down the stretch, shot 70 to earn a ticket to Q-School and was in no mood for small talk.
“You guys don’t want to talk to me all year long, now you do,” sneered Maggert, who bogeyed the 16th and missed a 20 footer for birdie at the last.
Maggert’s a nice guy made mad man by circumstances and the simple law of the Tour jungle – perform or pay the price at Q-School.
There were other stories to tell on a Magic Kingdom-perfect Sunday. Players vying for the top 150 (exempt into the final stage of Q-School and limited 2010 status), top 70 (exempt into all invitational fields) and top 30 (U.S. Open and Masters starts).
Jonathan Byrd shot 68, tied for 11th and moved from 72nd to 67th; while D.A. Points was 7 under through 12, tied for seventh and jumped from 77th to 66th.
“That was my major goal this week to finish in the top 70,” Points said. “I’ve been leaning on Mr. (Arnold) Palmer for invites. It’s going to be nice not to have to ask, and I have a couple top-70 bonuses written into my contracts, so it was nice.”
Sunday at Mickey’s place was like an episode of the 1950s cop series “Naked City,” complete with eight million stories. All were compelling, many were gut wrenching.
And in case you missed it, Stephen Ames took the trophy after George McNeill’s putt at the second extra frame caught more lip than a Manny Pacquiao left cross. At least that’s the rumor.