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#TGW: More Than a Cup of Coffee

Oct. 1, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

– As is often the case with Chesson Hadley, he put a unique touch on matters Wednesday morning soon after the 2010 Georgia Tech graduate was announced as the 2014 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.

Wrapping up a teleconference with Hadley and PGA Player of the Year Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem wished McIlroy well. The world’s No. 1 player responded by saying that he was about to hang up and move onto the 18th tee at St. Andrews in Scotland.

So there was McIlroy at the Old Course, as famed a venue as there is in the game, passing time over ground some consider the birthplace of golf.

All Hadley, 27, needs is an opening in order to make a splash, and he got one when the teleconference moderator asked if he was anywhere famous to brag about.

“Actually, I’m in a coffee shop in Raleigh,” said the former ACC champion (2010) and All-American Yellow Jacket. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to join Rory at St. Andrews … “

There was, of course, some chuckling on the lines.

It should be noted here that Hadley has a knack for the dramatic, and the fact that he was in a coffee shop in his North Carolina hometown should not be discounted for theatrical value.

There was something poetic, maybe symmetrical about his whereabouts as he became the third former Yellow Jacket to win PGA rookie of the year honors (Stewart Cink, 1997; Michael Clark, 2000).

He already made Raleigh a magical place, arguably the launching point of a career that saw him make 13 of 29 cuts in his 2013-14 PGA Tour rookie season while earning a little more than $1.7 million and winning the Puerto Rico Open in early March.

In June of 2013, Hadley won his first event in Raleigh.

Victory in the Rex Hospital Open propelled him up the money list and put him in a great position for the late-season playoffs that would determine which golfers on the sport’s primary minor league would jump to the PGA Tour level for 2013-14.

Not only did he rally from a four-shot deficit that final day in front of family and friends in Raleigh, but in doing so he captured a tournament sponsored by the hospital where he was born. Seriously.

If there wasn’t something divine about that, surely other stretches of his path qualify for special distinction. He qualified to play on the 2013 Tour only after intervention of some sort in the fall of 2012.

Back then, the thought of giving up golf as a livelihood popped up after he failed to qualify out of the first stage of the PGA’s Qualifying School. As he told last year:

“I tied for 19th, one shot out of it,” Hadley he 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.’ “

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 some 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.

“Best phone call I’ve ever gotten; total resurrection from the dead,” Hadley told in 2012. “People write movies about that stuff. I just felt … it was overwhelming.”

That was not a beginning, but a continuation.

Soon after winning the Tour Championship last fall to earn his 2013-14 PGA Tour card, Hadley underwent PGA indoctrination – a symposium of sorts where Tour officials lecture on the rules of the road inside and outside the ropes.

Another former Tech golfer, Matt Kuchar, helped him through.

“[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 last year.

“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.”

Hadley, who recently was in Atlanta for Tech’s annual golf program fund raiser at the Golf Club of Georgia, wore his pants well as a rookie, although he bounced around a bit somewhat like he has before.

After earning All-America honors as a freshman and a sophomore at Tech, he scuffled as a junior when his long-distance relationship with a childhood friend fell into peril. Amanda was a student at North Carolina.

They rebounded – they’re married now and will soon celebrate the first birthday of son Hughes – and Chesson put together a solid senior season capped by winning medalist honors at the 2010 ACC championships.

Hadley carried the roller coaster ride to the big leagues.

He made his first two cuts on the PGA Tour last fall before missing five straight and six of seven.

Next, six straight cuts made, including a win in the Puerto Rico Open March 9 that grossed $630,000.

From early May to mid-August, he missed 10 of 11 cuts before finishing the season strongly in the FedEx Cup playoffs with a 70th-place finish at The Barclays, a tie for ninth at the Deutsche Bank Championship and a tie for 12th at the BMW Championship.

So, not long after McIlroy spoke on the teleconference of applying his experiences from the past to his present game, Hadley said Wednesday that he hopes to do the same.

“I think everybody is always searching for that key, that formula [for success],” he said. “So much of the game centers around putting, and I don’t think I was putting well [at mid season].

“Just teeing it up next year I’m going to be a better player … from picking the brains of veterans. The next step is to be more consistent. I have had a year on the PGA Tour. Putting is so important, and to be a little more consistent would go a long way.”

It won’t be long before Hadley tests his putting stroke again.

Hadley has a little more scheduling flexibility thanks to his win in Puerto Rico, and when the 2014-15 PGA season begins Oct .10-13 in the Open at the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif., he will be there.

“The win allows me to pick and choose a little bit, gives some security,” Hadley said. “To know that I have two more years on tour is nice.”

The business management graduate had four top 10 finishes and eight times wound up in the top 25 in 2013-14, and he has more in mind.

“I like the new wraparound schedule [that begins in the fall],” he said. “I love traveling to these places, and experiencing these cities … I’m excited about getting over to Napa for the Open.”

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