PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Keith Mitchell wasn’t lacking for motivation going into the weekend at the Honda Classic.
A friend sent him a headline from a newspaper.
“It said, 'No name leads Honda,'” Mitchell said. “I just used that as a little motivation.”
In the final pairing Saturday, with his first lead in a PGA Tour event, Mitchell wasn’t getting a lot of love. With Vijay Singh, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia all within three shots, Mitchell wasn’t getting much respect, either.
Pulling his caddie close on the first tee, he showed him a text message from yet another friend. There was biting humor and more motivation in it.
“It basically said, 'Nobody cares about you, so good luck,'” caddie Pete Persolja said. “He showed it to me again on the first tee before the final round.
“Keith is fearless. He’s a born natural at the game, and old-school kind of player. He may not be whoever, but he’s Keith Mitchell.”
After holding a clutch 15-foot birdie putt to beat world No. 4 Brooks Koepka and No. 9 Rickie Fowler by a shot Sunday at PGA National, Mitchell isn’t a no-name anymore. He’s a somebody in the game. He’s a PGA Tour winner.
Before that putt fell, Mitchell, 27, hadn’t won anything since a mini-tour event in North Carolina three years ago. With birdies at two of the final four holes Sunday, he looked like a proven closer.
“It’s just awesome,” Mitchell said. “I wish I could come up with a better word.
“Coming down the stretch against Rickie and Brooks — those guys are the best in the world — and they've been out here proving themselves,” Mitchell said. “I'm just pleased that I could prove myself against guys like that.”
Mitchell was unshakeable. He was standing on the 17th tee when he watched Fowler conjure thunder, rolling in a 45-foot birdie up in front of him. It moved Fowler within a shot of the lead that Mitchell shared with Koepka, who was already in the clubhouse. Mitchell was in the 18th fairway when Fowler made the ground quake again, rolling in a birdie in front of him to tie for the lead.
“So, I'm thinking, 'Well, if I make par here, I got a playoff with two of the best players in the world, and potentially Hall-of-Famers,’” Mitchell said. “That's a big thought for a guy that's in his second year on Tour, who’s never won.
“I was able to execute, and that's something I haven't been able to do in the past.”
Mitchell didn’t blink over that last 15-foot birdie putt.
“Everybody dreams about having that putt on the 18th hole to win a tournament, and I had it today” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s mother, Cynthia, snuck under the ropes at the 18th to watch. She was thinking about how proud all the folks back in their hometown in Chattanooga, Tennessee, would be. She was thinking about the coach, King Oehmig, at Baylor High, the small private school where her son learned to dream big. Oehmig, an Episcopalian minister, built a prep power, winning 21 state titles before he passed four years ago. Oehmig helped her son, Harris English, Luke List and Stephen Jaeger all make it to the Tour.
“He’s up there somewhere looking down,” Cynthia said. “He was a force in golf in our community.”
Mitchell has never played in a major. Now, he’s going to the Masters next month. He’s a former University of Georgia Bulldog, so it’s even more special going to Augusta National.
“I've always wanted to win and dreamed to win, and just to be sitting here and having these questions is amazing,” Mitchell said.