CROMWELL, Conn. – This may not exactly come straight from the Joe Namath School of Guarantees, but it’s perfectly valid considering the circumstance. There is a slam-dunk, no-doubt-about-it, stone-cold lock entering the final round of the Travelers Championship:
There will be drama.
That’s because no matter what happens in Sunday’s final round – whether 54-hole co-leader Roland Thatcher claims his first career PGA Tour victory or comes up agonizingly short or completely melts down in the spotlight – it will be an entertaining turn of events.
After all, recent history has proven that almost nothing the low-key Thatcher does within the confines of the gallery ropes is without a certain level of adventure.
There was the time in 2001, just a year out of Auburn University, when he was playing in the finals of Q-School. Needing a par on the last hole – No. 9 at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Fla. – his approach shot flew the green, hit the cart path and bounced over the clubhouse roof. He made triple bogey.
“If you’re going to fail,” he once said, “it’s probably the most spectacular way you can fail.”
There was the time two years later, when he found himself in a similarly precarious position at the 2003 edition of Q-School. This time he needed to make birdie on the final hole and rolled in an 18-footer to clinch his PGA Tour card for the first time.
“I knew I needed to make it,” he recalled. “That was a tremendous boost of confidence for me.”
There was the time three years ago, when Thatcher entered the Disney tournament at 119th on the money list and missed the cut. Forced to spend the weekend at home, he watched every shot and pored over the projections until he coolly found himself safely inside the number at week’s end.
There was the time one year later at the same event. At 179th on the money list entering the week, Thatcher joked that he was using the tournament as a practice for Q-School, then raced to a four-stroke lead through 54 holes. Though he couldn’t maintain the lead, getting lapped by Robert Garrigus on the back nine, Thatcher knew a solo second-place finish would be enough to retain status. Needing to sink a 6-foot par putt on the final hole to reach that number, he made it, ensuring his membership for yet another season.
“That was the most well publicized of my late-season theatrics. I had a really horrible year and was able to put a lot of things together that week,” he explained. “The unique part about that year is that I was trying to win my first tournament, but my secondary goal was finishing solo second to retain my playing privileges for 2011.”
And then there was last year, when he entered the Disney-based tournament at 121st on the PGA Tour money list. Needing to finish in the top 125 to retain full status, Thatcher bogeyed the final hole to miss the cut by a single stroke. Sitting at home with his future on the line, he at one point found himself inside the number by a whopping $45, only to succumb to strong weekends by some fellow bubble boys and finish 127th.
What it’s meant is that this season Thatcher owns only limited status in the big leagues. He’s played just 10 events prior to this week and made the cut in two, his T-12 finish in Puerto Rico more than three months ago serving as the last time he’s received a paycheck.
All of which leads to Sunday, when the co-leader – alongside Brian Davis, who is also seeking his first career win – expects to see some fireworks based on his own long, winding journey here.
“It's always interesting, either positive or negative,” Thatcher said with a laugh. “Very rarely do I go out and play a round of golf where somebody says, ‘That was a really boring day.’ It's going to be interesting. It's going to be exciting, one way or the other. I hope it's going to be positive for me, but there's varying levels of positive results tomorrow. It's not just about the win. I'm going to go out and try to control what I can control.”
From bad bounces off cart paths to plain bad luck, from final-hole birdies that kept his career afloat to final-hole bogeys that nearly sunk it, Thatcher has endured more than his fair share of drama over the years.
Now with him in position to claim his first PGA Tour title, don’t expect Sunday to turn out any differently.