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#STINGDAILY: It's a Tour Life

July 13, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Chesson Hadley’s script writer has been at it again because, really, can there be another explanation for how this former Georgia Tech golfer rolls?

Hadley’s Tour bio

Judge for yourself. First, let’s go back a few weeks to re-visit a moment in golf’s minor leagues where time seemed to stop …

The scene: Hadley’s hometown of Raleigh, with dozens of family and friends present. His first Tour win is within reach because, after a weather delay in the final round where he took time to adjust his putting approach, he’s striking, “bombs,” on the back side.

Oh, another detail: This is the Rex Hospital Open. Where was Hadley born? Rex Hospital. No wonder he was a media darling all week.

Still, a near miracle is required. The final day of play (June 23) began with the 2010 ACC champion four strokes back of the lead, and he stands even par through eight holes prior to a weather break/putter re-boot. He isn’t gaining any ground, and he’s running out of time to gain it.

Then, after skies, uh, cooperate, he goes six under over holes 9-17.

“I got to a point on the back nine, and everything was going my way,” Hadley said Friday by phone from Sandy, Utah, where he is playing in the Utah Championship. “I didn’t look at the leaderboard, but you could just feel the momentum of the universe piling up in my corner.”

So with all those familiar faces rimming the 18th green, Hadley plays in a 130-yard wedge – a money shot given that he was tied for the lead (but thought he was one back) at TPC Wakefield Plantation.

And . . . the ball nicks the flag stick.

Are you kidding?

Tap. There’s a win, a check for $112,500 that pushes his 2013 earnings to $249,784 for the No. 3 spot on the money list, and a ticket all but punched to the Big Time.

By season’s end, the top 25 money men on the Tour will earn PGA Tour cards for 2014. Hadley is a near cinch to finish in that top 25.

And to think, he earned a modest $8,832.72 in his first five events this season, barely enough to pay expenses with enough leftover change for a car payment and groceries.

Then, “I hit it to a foot on the last hole for the win,” he recalled. “It was unreal.”

Actually, Hadley’s season began surging before Raleigh, but when you consider the fact that it’s practically unreal that the long (6-feet-3), lean one is even on the Tour … then, the Rex Hospital Open stands easily as his seminal moment.

That’d be a script writer’s pivot point not only because it was his first win, but it was in his home town and he won on his very last shot. That’s Hollywood; his has been quite a story.

The season/script began differently.

“The goal [when the season began] was finish in top 25,” he explained. “In the first eight events, I made six cuts but I was just 88th on money list. Then, it became, ‘Keep grinding it out, get in top 75, and lock in my card for next year.'”

It has turned out, however, that Hadley’s, “total resurrection from the dead,” last fall after flaming out of Q-School for a third time was a preview.

Not long ago, he had one of those golfer conversations with the man in the mirror. That was last fall, after failing to qualify out of the first stage of the PGA’s Qualifying School.

“I tied for 19th, one shot out of it,” Hadley told Sting Daily last fall. “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.’ “

A couple days later, a PGA official called.

Another golfer who had finished ahead of Hadley had incorrectly applied to himself one penalty stroke rather than two.

He turned himself in, was disqualified, and that reset a chunk of the field. Hadley moved into a tie for the last qualifying spots, and went on to pass through stages two and three. He tied for 43rd in the final leg of Q-School to earn a 2013 Tour card and the right to play for a ’14 PGA card.

“Best phone call I’ve ever gotten; total resurrection from the dead,” Hadley said to Sting Daily last fall. “People write movies about that stuff. I just felt … it was overwhelming.”

After that weather delay a few Sundays back, Hadley moved his feet closer together in his putting stance. The first payoff came quickly. He rolled in a 30-footer on No. 9 for eagle.

Over the back nine, he rolled in birdie putts of 12, 25, 7 and 10 feet before the tap for another on 18.

In the interest of full disclosure, there has been more to Hadley’s season than that adjustment to his putting stance. The last stop before his rebound was the University of Georgia. Seriously.

Going back further, Hadley tied for 49th in the Stadion Classic at UGA. He picked up a check on May 5 for $2,085.

Beyond the many mental gymnastics that go with the game of golf, there have been logistical issues. His wife, Amanda, is with him in Utah and accompanies him on most trips. That has been tremendous.

“It’s such a huge help having her on the road,” Hadley said. “She’s my manager. It makes my job so much easier.”

But not all logistics are wrapped is such a tidy package.

“I’m on my fourth caddy. I’ve come to learn that it’s part of the sport,” Hadley explained. “It’s a relationship where you’ve got to find somebody that you can put up with more than work with. One [caddy] left me to work for somebody else.

“One caddy just didn’t work out. Another, we were playing well together but I didn’t see it going long term.”

Post-Athens, the universe began to tilt a little differently even with the caddy situation teetering.

With a 21-under par score of 265 in the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greer, S.C., a third-place finish (tie) fetched a check of $33,800 – by far Hadley’s biggest to that point.

He then tied for sixth in the Mexico Championship ($23,450), and second in the Mid-Atlantic Championship ($64,800) in Potomac, Md.

“I shot that 27 on front nine in [Greer], made a great check, and ever since I’ve just been on fire,” Hadley said. “I finished second in Mexico and then [after the Mid-Atlantic], I went from 88th to 8th on the money list in three weeks. At that point, I’d almost locked up my PGA tour card.”

Yet again, a looper problem arose. Hadley needed another caddy.

Although unemployed caddies tend to hang around tournaments early in the week looking for work, Chesson came up with an idea better than just walking up to one as if choosing a Christmas tree off the lot.

He wanted to work with Josh Svendsen, a migrant caddy ( who has spent time on the bags of former Tech golfers Cameron Tringale, Troy Matteson and Bryce Molder.

Many of these loopers, “are like salesmen,” Chesson said, but he needed help selling himself as well.

His swing coach and good friend, Jeff Paton of the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, knows Svendsen and put in a good word.

“I begged Josh to come work with me,” Hadley said. “He called Jeff Paton, and asked … I feel like I can spend a lot of time with [Svendsen] and not get annoyed and not annoy him.”

The first time Svendsen, 48, was on his bag, Hadley, 26, missed a cut. Second time out, he won.

His caddy requirements are a bit different.

“I’ve spent 20 years of my life doing my own yardages, checking wind direction and things like that … I don’t want to change that now. I mainly need that compatibility, somebody I can just get along with,” Hadley said.

“I don’t want to discount his knowledge of golf. I really just want somebody who believes in me, and is positive and upbeat. Unless he absolutely hates the shot I’m playing, I’ll pick the club and play the shot. [On those rare occasions], I will almost always go with what he says.”

Alas, the script writer can’t settle on a singular plot.

In their third pairing, Hadley/Svendsen missed another cut, and in their fourth Hadley’s rounds of 68-69 in Utah (five-under par) left him one shot shy of the cut.

To recap: with the caddy he said he’s felt most comfortable working alongside, Hadley gained his first pro win yet missed the cut in three others. Three of his five cuts this season have come with Svendsen on the bag.

There’s more script to come, obviously, but there’s no erasing what’s happened. Hadley’s focusing on the positive, on adjustments that worked rather than on those that either haven’t or whose jury remains out.

The Tour is every bit as unpredictable as the PGA Tour.

Friday, a journeyman named Todd Collins, who graduated from Methodist University in 2001 and missed eight of 13 cuts entering Utah, carded an eagle and seven birdies on the back nine at Willow Creek Country Club to shoot 60 and take a three-stroke lead.

“I think some of it was just getting comfortable and adjusting to some of the differences that the Tour provides,” Hadley said. “It was a slow start, but I learned … then, I just finally reached a comfort level. Nine holes [at Greer] changed my year.

“Then, I just wanted to make cut in Raleigh, play well in front of my hometown crowd and bring as much attention to the event as I could as all my sponsors are from Raleigh. It’s been kind of crazy adjusting to the attention. My wife and I are trying to enjoy it, stay focused and remember we have eight or 10 tournaments this year.”

On to Overland Park, Kan., and Boise.

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