Shakedown In Alabama

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Joe Ogilvie jumped onto the pool table Sunday night as the celebration was in full throttle. The festivities were centered on the top 20 Nationwide Tour money earners earlier in the evening, but now it was for anyone and everyone who cared to join in celebrating another year on the Nationwide Tour. And by all accounts, it was the most successful by far.
 
From his pedestal Joe graciously thanked all those who work the entire year to make this tour possible. Then he told his version of a story we heard from so many players all week long. He told of how it's with mixed emotions that every player moves up to the PGA Tour because of how much they enjoy the Nationwide Tour. The cast of characters is what makes it great and consensus opinion is that the family atmosphere that develops over the course of a year is far stronger than any other tour they've played.
 
Now the cast of characters will change as the 20 lead roles from this year's Nationwide Tour have now landed a part in The Show next year. Whether it's a starring role or a supporting role is to be determined, but they're guaranteed to be included in the credits.
 
But before next year's script could be written, the cast had to be completed at the Nationwide Tour Championship.
 
There was plenty of drama during the final round as various scenarios presented themselves through out the day. One such scenario was when it became possible for David Moreland IV to get bumped from the 17th position all the way out of the top 20 along with the three players immediately behind him - Craig Bowden, Brett Wetterich, and Kyle Thompson. We (Curt Byrum and myself) had projected Moreland was safe all week. In the end he was as Wetterich and Thompson were left off stage when the curtain dropped, and Tommy Tolles along with D.J. Brigman played their way on. However, strange things were happening all over the place on Sunday.
 
Brigman jumped into the top 20 in the most dramatic fashion. But jumping doesn't scare him. Four weeks ago, D.J. went along with six of the tour wives for a skydiving expedition. Now he has jumped onto the PGA Tour. Just two weeks ago, he was in 85th position on the money list. D.J. didn't figure into our equation at all on Sunday until a late birdie barrage put him in position for a chance at a solo-second place finish - the minimum he needed to get into the top 20. In one of the week's more compelling moments, D.J. drained a 10-footer on the difficult 18th to get him to the PGA Tour.
 
Tjaart van der Walt and Daniel Chopra were the true casualties. Both players entered the day needing to play merely a solid round of golf. Neither did. Chopra bogeyed every-other hole from the 12th hole in'including a final, devastating bogey at the last hole. Brigman played the 18th needing birdie to get his card, and he knew it. Chopra needed par, although there was no way for him to be sure what he needed, and came up short with a final-round 76 when just a 75 would have done it.
 
But he wasnt the only one.
 
Van der Walt could have shot a final round 76 and still finished inside the top-20. Once again, there was no way he could have known exactly what he needed. But, his edge-of-her-seat, exuberant, and most loyal fan'wife Phillipa'kept asking as we went along. All day from the 8th hole on, he was exactly one shot from the top 20. He played very solid on the back nine after starting his day double-double on the first two holes. Then, finally on the reachable par-5 17th hole, Tjaart holed a seven-footer for his first birdie of the day. He was in, and only in need of a par at 18. An errant drive that drew a terrible lie resulted in a lay up 50 yards short of the hole. From there, a sub-standard pitch and a narrowly missed 45-footer, and Tjaart was headed back to Q-School.
 
Although it was pretty obvious that both Chopra and Van der Walt were immersed in a struggle against their nerves, when it was all done, they both handled the disappointment with as much class as Ive ever witnessed. Sooner or later, this wacky game will deal everyone their share of adversity. And when faced with this overwhelming disappointment, their true characters were revealed. The pair might not have been up to the task inside the ropes on Sunday, but they did provide testament to what Joe Ogilvie was saying later in the night. The people who make up the Nationwide Tour are as good as it gets.
 
Tommy Tolles looked safely inside the top 20, even though he missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the last. However, after Brigman birdied the last two and Tjaart birdied number 17, Tolles was then bound for 21st position on the money list. Tjaarts final hole determined the fate of two people. And now, one of the best human beings Ive ever met is on his way back to the PGA Tour.
 
Tommy kissed his two children goodbye on July 28th and he hasnt been home since. He decided to gut it out and play every tournament until he made enough money to guarantee a spot in the top 20. It was a very tough stretch on his family. His kids would sometimes make phone conversations difficult because their emotions were obvious in the sadness of daddy being gone for so long. And mom was gone for much of the time as well. She was out caddying for her husband much the same way they did together when Tommy was forging his career 10 plus years ago.
 
But trust me, the person who felt the most heartache was Tommy. Hes the most devoted father and husband I know, and being away from his children for so long was eating at him inside more than hell ever admit. A heart to heart with his wife on Friday night is what Tommy said inspired his 65 on Saturday. Ive known Tommy and Ilse since 1991, and the only other time I can remember that Ilse demanded the floor during one of Tommys struggles, Tommy responded with rounds of 65 and 66 at the second stage of Q-School. Im pretty sure that was the same year he earned his PGA Tour card.
 
Tommy and Ilse drove the five hours back to Flat Rock, N. C., first thing Monday morning. It took every last tournament for Tommy to earn that PGA Tour card, and he made it by a mere $1,200. But now Wiekus and Hannah Tolles have daddy home, and daddy proved to himself that he still has what it takes to succeed. When Tommys game was at its best, he qualified for the PGA Tour Championship twice. Like everyone else in the top 20, Tommy enjoyed the atmosphere this year on The Nationwide Tour, but his dream is to never play in the Nationwide Tour Championship again.
 
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