One began the week on the outside looking in, the other had nothing to lose. After 72 grueling holes at the Buy.com Tour Championship, both emerged triumphant.
Although it was Pat Bates who hoisted the hardware Oct. 28, Brenden Pappas had just as much reason to celebrate as the sun set over the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Senator Course at Capitol Hill.
For Bates, his three-shot victory at the season finale completed a long journey that began 21⁄2 years ago in a Little Rock, Ark., hospital. And Pappas’ tie for second place propelled the South African from No. 23 to No. 10 on the money list and onto the PGA Tour in 2002.
“I didn’t think I would get to this level ever again,” said Bates, 32, who was told he would probably never play golf again after neck surgery in April 1999. “I am so humbled and thankful to complete my journey and finally get back to the PGA Tour.”
Bates’ odyssey began in February 1999 when he heard an “unhuman-like pop” in his neck while playing with his son, John Spencer. After surgery to remove a bone that was pressed against his spinal cord, it took Bates five days to walk again and four months before he could even grasp a golf club.
That’s when Bates made his commitment to return to the PGA Tour and with help from his father-in-law, Senior PGA Tour player Doug Tewell, and sports psychologist David Cook he made slow, yet steady, progress, jumping to 57th on the money list in 2000.
“To be part of this is a dream,” said Bates, whose victory at Capitol Hill was his third of 2001 and earned him an elevated exemption on the 2002 PGA Tour. “It’s a dream of all of ours to go to the PGA Tour.”
The 2001 season, however, wasn’t always a dream for the Bates clan. After losing all his sponsors, Bates needed a runner-up finish at the Florida Open worth $10,000 just to bankroll his season. In May, after back-to-back missed cuts, Bates was again almost forced off the tour because of financial difficulties.
“Coming out here and trying to win this tournament isn’t pressure,” said Bates, who finished 206th on the 1995 PGA Tour money list. “Putting food on the table for your family is pressure.”
Pressure was a common companion and could be found in every corner of the windswept Senator Course, where seasonlong battles often boiled down to single shots.
Some – like Pappas, who holed his slick 5-footer on the 18th green to secure second place and his first trip to the PGA Tour – were successful.
“I figured if I stuck to my guns and kept working hard good things would happen,” said Pappas, who will join fellow 2001 Buy.com Tour graduate and older brother Deane next year on the PGA Tour. “I figured I was due. Even though I had been missing putts I stayed with my routine.”
Others, like Todd Barranger, were not.
Barranger started the week on the bubble at No. 15 on the money list but his first-round 85 all but assured his tumble from the top 15. His tie for 46th dropped him to 16th on the list and added a trip to the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School to an already long season.
Like Barranger, Brian Kamm also ended up on the wrong side of the season-ending money crunch. Kamm, who solidified his spot in the season finale with his runner-up finish to Bates at the Shreveport Open Oct. 21, finally ran out of magic. He likely needed a victory to crack the top 15 but had rounds of 74-71-71-74 and missed earning his Tour card by $22,951.
Kamm’s plight was one of many doomed by relentless winds and knee-high fields of fescue that line the links-style layout.
Things became even more charged when, after three days of gusts from the northeast, the final round was played in a stiff breeze from the southeast that set the stage for a final-round shootout for the Buy.com Tour’s money title between Chad Campbell and Australian Rod Pampling.
Although Pampling and Campbell, a three-time winner in 2001, were locks to earn 2002 PGA Tour cards, both had their sights set on the money crown. Pampling, who set a record for earnings ($306,573) without a triumph, needed a victory, as well as a little help from Campbell. He got neither.
Campbell closed with 71 to finish fourth and easily took the money title with $394,552 while Pampling tied for fifth and finished fourth on the money list.
“My whole goal going into this year was to set myself up for next year and I accomplished that,” Campbell said. “It was a little easier for me this week since I didn’t have to play well, but I wanted to win this tournament. That’s why you play.”
Ironically, tough conditions and a scoring average that hovered more than two strokes above par (74.4) helped some cling to their spots inside the top 15.
Canadian Richard Zokol, who at 42 is the elder statesman of the 2001 class, posted four consecutive rounds over par (77-79-74-73) yet held his spot on the money list (13th) to earn his way back to the PGA Tour for a 14th season.
Jason Hill (tied for 44th) also flirted with disaster as did Michael Long, who tied for 46th, but both remained inside the top 15 thanks, in large part, to the inability of the players like Paul Claxton, who was 16th on the money list when the week began but finished 21st, to make a significant move up the leaderboard.
Then again, not everybody came up empty in Alabama, and in the end, Bates walked away the biggest winner of all.
“After going through all the struggles I have the last few years this is a storybook,” Bates said. “This is the result of 10 years of blood, sweat and tears.”