One hole from capturing consecutive AJGA invitational titles, Anthony Paolucci made one of his worst swings of the week.
It ended up costing him the FootJoy Invitational.
Paolucci made double bogey on the last hole Friday at Sedgefield Country Club to go from one ahead to one behind, losing by a stroke to Tanner Kesterson. With the victory, his second on the AJGA, Kesterson earned a sponsor exemption to the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship, played on the same course in mid-August.
It was a stunning collapse for Paolucci, who made four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to take the outright lead as he made his way to the 18th tee.
That’s when it all went terribly wrong. Paolucci snap-hooked his drive so far left that it wound up in the rough on the 10th hole, completely blocked out by the towering pines lining the fairway. He pitched out sideways, pushed his hybrid approach and faced a near impossible pitch on the short side. From there, he flopped to 18 feet and missed the bogey putt, finishing with a disappointing double-bogey 6, one stroke shy of winning back-to-back invitationals. (He won the Thunderbird International on May 31.)
Kesterson, No. 41 in Golfweek’s rankings, shot a final-round 68 and finished at 9-under 271.
“It’s an honor to be able to play in (the Wyndham Championship),” Kesterson said. “I’m just going to go in there for the experience and it’s going to be great. The goal is to learn how to play the mental part of that and be more relaxed and confident out there.”
Starting the final round two strokes back of leader Denny McCarthy, Kesterson made the turn in 1 under to pull into a share of the lead with defending champion Justin Thomas. Kesterson picked up birdies on Nos. 13 and 16 to reclaim a one-stroke lead, but gave the shot back with a three-putt on the 17th, dropping him into a tie with Thomas and Paolucci, who was playing in the final group.
Thomas’ second shot into the par-4 finishing hole came up short, and he failed to get up-and-down for par, settling for a 68 and a tie for second.
“I birdied (the 18th) the last two days, so I had good thoughts,” Thomas said. “It just didn’t turn out so well. … It just wasn’t my tournament.”
Kesterson, from Plano, Texas, has given a verbal commitment to Oklahoma State. Prior to the FootJoy, he hadn’t cracked the top 25 in two invitational starts this season – a T-51 at the HP Boys Championship, a T-25 last month at the Thunderbird. He also won the Stars of Texas Junior last August.
“My dream a year ago was to win an AJGA (tournament) and I got that,” Kesterson said. “My other dream was to win an invitational. Finally that happened, so I feel very pumped.”
Information from the AJGA was used in this report.