Dec. 6, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
If you don’t already know the story, which is really a series of bi-polar tales, you’re going to love the one(s) about Chesson Hadley.
Warning: first-timers might need Dramamine to keep from getting sea sick. There has been a distinct wave action to this young man’s sporting life.
Remember Hadley? Golfer, played at Tech. Hasn’t been gone long.
Last week he made it through the third and final stage of the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School/gauntlet in fine enough fashion – with six straight sub-par rounds at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. – to qualify for the 2013 Web.com Tour, a step below the PGA circuit.
It’s a big deal made bigger by pointing out that he didn’t make it through the first stage of Q School … until a fellow competitor disqualified himself a few days after that stage, and Hadley moved up the board and into the second stage.
The lean, long Raleigh man knows how to get up and down and turn a break to gold.
He earned All-America honors at Tech as a spring freshman (after doing nothing in the fall) and as a sophomore, slumped badly as a junior while bedeviled/distracted by long-distance romance, was uneven in the fall of his senior year and then that spring rolled all the way to ACC team and individual titles in 2010 and another spot as an All-American.
Then, he did all this up-and-downing again as a pro and not just in the process of scoring. A couple times, you might say. It’s been a lot for a lad of 25 years.
“I go to first stage at Pine Mountain, Callaway Gardens. I played good, eight under for four rounds, and I tied for 19th, one shot out of it,” Hadley said. “It was kind of like, ‘Wow. That’s it. Game over. I was really trying not to get down and start letting my mind wander and think, ‘Maybe I just need to go get a job.'”
Imagine sulking around after missing the Q-School cut (for the third time, by the way), knowing you’ve got to go back to pro golf’s mid-minors – a lifestyle of siege. Before you know it, you’re back on a course in a small-scale event that you want nothing to do with.
“I had signed up earlier for a tournament in Greensboro, N.C., and I couldn’t get out of it because I would have had to pay like a $300 exit fee,” our man said. “In the first round, I shot a 75, and I was miserable.”
The next couple rounds were better, but the mood didn’t match. Back home one day, shortly after walking in the house near Raleigh, Hadley hears the phone ring … Bah, humbug! Picture a 6-foot-4 sliver looking down at the noise, noise, noise.
“I didn’t answer it,” he said. “They left a message. I started listening to it.”
There was a familiar voice. It was a lady from the PGA Tour, and that’s not all Hadley knew. “As soon as I heard who it was, I knew what had happened. Why else would the PGA Tour be calling me?” he said. “She said I had gotten into second stage because somebody had DQ’d.”
Hadley and five other golfers moved into a tie for 18th place – high enough to advance – when former Auburn golfer Blayne Barber had called the PGA Tour on Nov. 2 to self-report after he’d qualified for the second stage.
He’d taken a one-stroke penalty days earlier when he thought his club moved a leaf. When he later realized that he should have applied a two-stroke penalty, he ratted on himself. Even though he scored well enough to qualify even with a two-stroke penalty, he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
“Best phone call I’ve ever gotten; total resurrection from the dead,” Hadley said. “People write movies about that stuff. I just felt … it was overwhelming. I was playing with house money.”
Hadley – whose former girlfriend, Amanda Geer, is his present wife – slogged through his junior year at Tech while she was at North Carolina. They slog together now.
He had some success in mini-Tour action after turning pro immediately after graduating in ’10, and passed the first stage of Q School that fall. “Second stage, I played horrible,” Hadley said.
Back at it in ’11, “I got a little better on the eGolf Tour, seventh on money list, and then in Q-School I didn’t even sniff making it through first stage. That one I had a terrible reaction to; I didn’t know if I wanted to do it anymore. I didn’t want to play golf. I was just sick of it.”
He thought of going into sales, like his father. “I’m great with people,” Hadley suggested. “Or I would like to commentate. I like to be on camera.”
“I was talking to Amanda, and she talked me off the ledge. She said, ‘You just have to go play golf.’ “
Fast forward. Hadley was a steady presence in the top 10 on the eGolf Tour this year, won an event, and found himself No. 2 on the money list. That’s indicative of consistency more than wealth.
He took $84,986.50 this season, yet it’s worth mentioning the 50 cents because every penny counts. While that’s a nice chunk of change for a guy two years out of college, it’s expensive to play mid-minors professional golf, where there are no appearance fees for the Chesson Hadleys of the world and plenty of travel, room and board.
Hadley, in fact, carried his own bag in the second stage of Q School, out in Murrieta, Calif. Passing that, he stayed out west with a host family to prepare for stage three.
“Jim and Jill Hemingway, they were amazing. Fantastic,” he said. “They bought my wife a first class ticket out there [from N.C.] for Thanksgiving. Then, they set me up with another family in Palm Springs [for the third stage].”
So all Chesson does at PGA West is go 68-70-70-71-68-71.
In tying for 43rd place at 418 (14-under par), he missed by four strokes from earning full status on the PGA circuit next year, yet gained full status on the Web.com Tour. That is one step away from the verdant Big Leagues, and fairly lucrative.
The No. 12 money winner on the Web.com Tour this year, for example, pulled $263,841.
Guy’s name is Paul Haley. He was Hadley’s teammate at Tech, a year behind in school and as ACC medalist in 2011. His Q-School work last year put him on this year’s Web.com Tour, where his standing on the money list puts him on next year’s PGA Tour.
James White, another Tech teammate of Chesson’s who graduated in May, also made it all the way to the third stage. He tied for 133rd (431/1-under) to become a partial qualifier for next year’s Web.com Tour.
The two Techsters dined together almost nightly during Stage III.
“James and I get along very well. It was a good week for the two of us,” Hadley said. “We just rallied around the Lord, and I know he wishes he would have played better, but he hasn’t even been a pro for three months and to make it to the third stage already is an enormous accomplishment. He’ll move up next year.”
Hadley believes that, and he knows a thing or two about belief.
“I certainly don’t think it’s a coincidence how it happened. Blayne [Barber] is a strong Christian, and so am I . . . too much happened for God not to have his hand on that. I got an unbelievable break and I was able to capitalize.
“I’m still just incredibly thankful. It was a great week. I had a phenomenal caddie. My prayer was just for patience and peace. I was so comfortable, and I think it showed in my scores.”
Told you that you’d like this story. Like his college coach, Chesson Hadley can talk, and while he might strike you as an up-and-down guy, the reality is that many golfers experience tremendous highs and lows within themselves. Hadley just happens to be willing to talk enough about all of that to give it texture. Great guy. Congratulations, my man. Comments to email@example.com. Twitter @ mwinkeljohn