Wyatt's New Orleans finish opens doors


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bobby Wyatt spent Tuesday morning at a local Apple store trying to coax his iPhone back to life.

He can’t say for certain his phone’s demise was the byproduct of overload, but admits “when I glanced at it right before it stopped working I had over 50 text messages.”

In the hurried moments after Wyatt’s fourth-place finish on Monday at the weather-delayed and drenched Zurich Classic, that’s about the only thing that didn’t go his way.

Playing on a sponsor exemption, the 23-year-old briefly took the lead on Monday at 14 under par before a pair of unlikely bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15 derailed the best-case scenario, but all things considered, Wyatt’s first PGA Tour start of 2016 will not be soon forgotten.

His final-round 64 left him one shot out of a playoff won by Brian Stuard, but gave Wyatt much more in return, including job security, increased opportunities and, perhaps most important, a renewed sense of confidence.

Like many young stars fresh out of college, Wyatt’s transition to the professional world was eye-opening – harsh even. For every Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler there are many more Bobby Wyatts, players who are dubbed “can’t miss” leaving college but quickly discover that things move much quicker in the play-for-pay ranks.

With the unflinching honesty that only comes with experience, Wyatt refers to those first few years since leaving the University of Alabama as his “failures.”

Playing on sponsor invite, Wyatt finishes fourth

In five Tour starts after leaving Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2014 he didn’t finish better than 60th, he failed to advance out of Web.com Tour Q-School last fall and began 2016 with nowhere to play.

“I had my chances and I didn’t do it, but I learned a lot from those experiences,” Wyatt said on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Championship.

With no status in the United States the alternative was extreme. He traveled halfway around the world to ply his trade on the Southern Africa Tour, where he made three starts earlier this year.

The results were encouraging; he made two of three cuts and tied for ninth place at the Dimension Data Pro-Am in February, but the biggest benefit wasn’t so much the change of scenery as much as it was a changing narrative.

“Bobby’s biggest issue is dealing with the expectations of his past, of everything he’d accomplished and his talent," said Jeremy Elliott, Wyatt’s manager with Lagardere. "And we wanted to find any way possible for him to have status on Tour and if that meant him playing in South Africa, that’s what we were going to do. One of the advantages of that was he was able to get away from a lot of the noise.”

When Wyatt was 17 he shot 57 in the Alabama Boys State Junior and in 2013 he helped lead the Crimson Tide to the school’s first NCAA title. He went undefeated at the ’13 Walker Cup and was named a first-team All-American his senior year.

As so often happens, however, that success didn’t translate to the professional ranks. As he watched contemporaries and former teammates enjoy success at the next level, the pressure built.

After his Q-School miss last year, he turned to swing coach Scott Hamilton to straighten out a driver that was prone to a two-way miss.

“We flattened out his swing a little bit and got him more on plane,” Hamilton said. “We worked together [in February] and ever since then he’s been off to the races.”

With few playing options Wyatt turned to Monday qualifying and two weeks ago he missed earning a spot in the Texas Open by a stroke after making seven birdies.

The results were there but the starts were not, which prompted Elliott to make one final plea to officials at the Zurich Classic for a sponsor exemption, and Wyatt didn’t disappoint.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Wyatt’s week in New Orleans was his play despite the pressures of his vastly limited status.

“It was a big opportunity for me, I knew that. My ultimate goal is to make it out here and to do that I have to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt’s finish at TPC Louisiana secured him a spot in this week’s field at the Wells Fargo Championship and enough FedEx Cup points to assure him status on the Web.com Tour next year.

With 136 FedEx Cup points, Wyatt also has a chance to play his way onto the PGA Tour by matching the amount (458) needed to finish inside the top 125 on last year’s list. But mostly Wyatt said it’s the confidence gained from last week’s finish that will help propel him to that coveted next stage of his career.

“I learned I can win out here,” he said. “Even after those bogeys [at Nos. 14 and 15], I knew how well I was playing and didn’t feel intimidated or scared.”

That his breakthrough may or may not have blown up his iPhone was an acceptable byproduct of his success. “I got a new [phone],” he smiled.