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#STINGDAILY: Chess Match

Sept. 30, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

As a reward for all the grinding that former Georgia Tech golfer Chesson Hadley did over four previous days on the Dye’s Valley course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on Monday he was made to grind harder.

In the middle of a day loaded with meetings, a text from Matt Kuchar made it easier.

One day removed from winning the Tour Championship by two strokes at Dye’s Valley, Hadley went through heavy-duty indoctrination about life in professional golf’s Big League.

Watch Hadley’s highlights

His high-quality season on golf’s primary minor league tour earned him a PGA Tour card for next season, and he and other soon-to-be PGA pros were lectured Monday on the ins and outs of golf’s big time.

Sunday’s win in the postseason finale not only secured his biggest paycheck ($180,000), but vaulted his priority status for upcoming PGA events from No. 14 to No. 3 among new PGA Tour card holders.

So Hadley was there for good reasons, but, man, he said it was brutal . . . until that text from his predecessor on the Flats.

“[The meetings] reminded me of how glad I am to be out of school. You sit there all day and they just pump you full of information, talk about retirement plans and stuff you need to know . . . and some you don’t,” Hadley said of the PGA meetings on Monday.

“Matt sent me a text message. I know Matt, and I think if we saw each other he’d know who I am — I saw him at the [Tech golf] fundraiser a couple times – and to have him reach out was cool. He told me to get some big boy pants for next year. I told him I just made some money so I can buy some.”

It’s funny that as Hadley and his wife, Amanda, are about four weeks away from having to buy clothes for an infant – they’re to become parents for the first time – he’s on the verge of infancy as well.

Hadley will leave Sunday to make his PGA rookie debut as a card holder. The Open will kick off the 2013-’14 season in San Jose.

Can you believe how fast that’s happening? Of course not, but that’s life with Hadley.

Your life would be better if you knew Chesson personally, by the way.

He shoots from the hip, and since there always seems to be a lot going on in his life, the fact that he’s willing to talk about most of it makes him quite the dinner date. He’s like John Daly without vices. Oh, and about 100 pounds.

Here’s what he told a reporter after winning Sunday, when he rocked the front nine in 32 and then scuffled down the stretch before holding on: “I have no idea what happened. It was black-out golf out there, and I was just trying not to puke on myself on the way in . . . even though I tried to.”

The more you follow him, the more it feels like Hadley’s walking a high wire connecting worlds of near fame, fortune and blessings with a mundane, anxiety-riddled realm more like that with which most of us are familiar.

The young man has earned more than half a million bucks this year just two offseasons removed from waiting tables. And there’s this: his first pro win came this summer in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C., in a tournament named for the hospital where he was born.

Yo-yo, meet your offspring.

This guy was a fabulous golfer at Tech upon arriving in 2006, and then, suddenly, he wasn’t so good. Then, he was again.

As Hadley’s life turned (a recurring theme), he and and Amanda – a pal from childhood whom he had to convince that he would be worth dating – broke up. In the wake, the first half of his junior season was a mess.

Their relationship was complicated all along; she went to North Carolina.

“We have known each other since elementary school, but did not start dating until college. We were kind of best friends and I finally convinced her that I was a good idea,” Hadley explained. “We started dating, and fortunately she thought I was a good idea.”

Well, for a while.

The breakup preceded a miserable junior year at Tech. Then, the future Hadley family re-convened, and he won ACC medalist honors as a senior and captured All-America honors as well.

Now, Amanda travels to most events with Chesson and has stayed in crappy hotels along the way.

Hadley’s parents and sister made the trip to Ponte Vedra Beach, and so did his best friend and his wife’s best friend. It kind of felt like the Rex Hospital Open back in Raleigh.

Talk about sublime. “It was very special to have everybody present,” he said.

The future starts almost now.

Hadley’s PGA card does not get him into all events, but if he does well in early tournaments, he can play his way into more of them. He has priority over all but two of the new card holders. “If I just take care of my business and play well and make some cuts and make some dough I’ll be fine,” he said.

With 535,432 new dollars – the most on the Tour when combining the regular season and postseason – having funneled into his bank account, the Hadley’s are in a better place.

He just missed another special honor, though, and that bugs him a bit.

John Peterson, a former LSU golfer, finished in the top five of all four postseason events (the format, which has replaced the PGA’s qualifying school to award cards, is similar to the PGA’s FedEx Cup postseason) and edged Hadley by $567 in postseason earnings.

That enabled him to capture the No. 2 priority ranking among new card holders in addition to automatic berth into the Players Championship next season. Regular season money winner Michael Putnam holds the No. 1 priority.

“He told me he’d pay me for it,” Peterson told a reporter after Sunday’s finale.

Nearby, Hadley heard that and said, “I will; eighty grand.”

The aftermath of victory has been nearly as wonderful as the win. Tech coach Bruce Heppler has been in touch, and so have former teammates and Tech golfers with whom Hadley did not even play in college.

He’s come a long way.

“This is something that we’ve been dreaming of since we were kids out there beating balls on the range with our parents,” Hadley told reporters Sunday. To see that come to fruition with a bunch of hard work and a bunch of people supporting us along the way, it’s pretty special.”

Life’s bigger now.

The Hadleys will soon be three. They have planned a respite of sorts.

When Chesson plays the PGA’s Callaway Invitational at Thanksgiving, “I’ll take care of the baby while Amanda goes and gets pampered,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to play Pebble Beach, and now I’m going to get to. We’re considering that a vacation.

“We did just buy a car. I’d say it was for the baby, but it was more of a me purchase just wanting to have a [Chevy] Tahoe again, having a big car where if you were to have a wreck, you would come out victorious. We wrote a check for $39,000 the other day for that, and that was kind of like, whoa!”

Hey, the guy leads a Whoa! life.

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