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Out of the darkness: Reavie returns to winner's circle 11 years later

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CROMWELL, Conn. – For the first time in 3,983 days, Chez Reavie is a PGA Tour winner.

Reavie saw his six-shot, 54-hole lead cut to just one Sunday, but hung on to win the Travelers Championship by four over Keegan Bradley and Zack Sucher.

“Yeah, it means everything,” he said.

Reavie vaulted up the leaderboard Saturday when he tied the back-nine record at TPC River Highlands with a 7-under 28. Seated in the media room Saturday, he said his goal was to shoot 5 or 6 under in the final round, to run away and hide.

That didn’t happen.

He played his first 16 holes in even par, with just one birdie and one bogey. Alongside Reavie in the final group, Bradley worked his way to 5 under through 15 and cut the margin to a single shot with three holes to play.

But Reavie came out on the better end of a three-shot swing when he birdied and Bradley double bogeyed the 17th. The drama was done. Reavie would not blow the largest lead anyone has ever blown in the history of the PGA Tour. In fact, if you didn’t watch, you would assume he cruised.

“It was a challenge for sure,” he said.

Adding to the challenge on Sunday was Bradley’s role as the pseudo-hometown favorite. The New England native has had more than 100 friends and family members at the course this week, and the Sunday afternoon crowds weren’t shy in expressing their rooting interest. At one point, on the 10th hole, Reavie had to back off a shot.

“'Yeah, Chez, we love you, but we love Keegan more,’” Reavie said, sharing a G-rated version of what he heard. “Yeah, they were screaming at me. You know that happens. You get it every week. It's not just this week. People are just having fun. I don't think they necessarily understand how important it is to us. Keegan was great. He told them to stop it and back down when I was trying to putt. It wasn't malicious by any means.

“It was Sunday and just another test I had to go through today.”

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It's been a career and a comeback defined by tests for Reavie. Even as a top-ranked junior in Arizona, he wasn’t recruited by his eventual alma mater, Arizona State.

“I pretty much just hounded the coach until he had to take me,” Reavie said.

He found success fairly quickly as a pro, winning on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2007 and taking the RBC Canadian Open in his rookie year on the PGA Tour in 2008. In the years after, he would do enough to keep his status, even when he’d finish outside the FedExCup’s top 125.

But his left wrist was getting worse, a byproduct of his golf swing. He was flicking his wrists through impact with a steep angle of attack, “which would pretty much cause my left wrist to blow up,” he said.

He underwent surgery in January of 2014 and missed the entire year. With his arm in three different casts over the span of seven months, his doctor told him that there was a “50/50 shot” that the surgery might not work. There was a chance that when he was finally cleared to resume hitting balls, one full swing would wreck his wrist again.

“So those were probably the darkest days,” Reavie said. “Just the unknown and sitting at home not being able to do anything and your mind wandering: ‘Okay, if it didn't work, if I can't play golf, what am I going to do?’”

In the course of his comeback, he rebuilt his golf swing, shallowing his angle into the ball to lessen the impact on his wrist. A year after surgery, he returned to the Tour. And a year after that, he returned to the FedExCup Playoffs. And in every year since, he’s improved his ranking, from 166th in 2015 to 12th as of Sunday.

Reavie has a had a number of close calls the last two years, racking up eight top-10s, including two seconds and two thirds. Just last week at the U.S. Open, he recorded his best career finish in a major, tying for third behind Gary Woodland.

“That definitely gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week, and in particular into today,” he said. “I played really well on Sunday at the U.S. Open, and I tried to treat this the same as I did then.”

It’s tough to win on Tour. It’s even harder to pick up wins Nos. 1 and 2 a full 11 years apart. But as Reavie said Sunday, his career has been defined by persistence and perseverance.

“I enjoy every minute of every week I'm out here now, and I don't think I would necessarily be that way if I didn't go through those tough times,” he said.

“To win out here is an honor and something that shouldn't be overlooked or underappreciated.”

Reavie was asked to think back to those times, when he was wondering what else he would do with his life, assuming his wrist wasn’t going to tolerate golf any longer. He thought for a minute.

“Good question,” he said. “Haven't figured that out yet.”