ORLANDO, Fla. – In Friday’s second round, rookie Chesson Hadley, a recent winner at the Puerto Rico Open, shot a 4-under 68 and is tied for second with J.B. Holmes and Francesco Molinari.
But Hadley’s story is not just tied to one round or one tournament. His possibility of success on the PGA Tour is inexorably linked to a decision made by another in Nov. 2012.
Blayne Barber had comfortably made it out of the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School in 2012, but an undetected rules infraction that he committed forced him to eventually disqualify himself.
Six players were beneficiaries of Barber’s largess including Hadley who would eventually parlay his good fortune into a Web.com Tour card for the 2013 season.
“I had no status,” Hadley said in Las Vegas late last year. “I was at the point where I just was ready to just put the clubs away and whatnot.”
The Shriners Hospital Open was Hadley’s second PGA Tour event as a full-fledged member. Winning twice on the Web.com Tour in 2013 earned the Georgia Tech grad his card for the 2014 PGA Tour season.
After a T-72 at the Frys.com Open, Hadley found himself in the final pairing at the Shriners Hospitals Open with Webb Simpson.
Simpson would shoot a 5-under 66 and take home the hardware, with Hadley firing a 70 and finishing fifth.
“I just felt a little uncomfortable enough out there just to kind of maybe just throw of routine off a little bit,” Hadley said that Sunday afternoon. “I hit some squirrely shots there at the beginning and I was able to make a couple nice par saves that kept the round going because it could have gotten pretty ugly there early. “
The aftermath from Las Vegas would be a litany of missed cuts – McGladrey, Mayakoba, Sony Open, Humana Challenge and the Farmers Insurance at Torrey Pines.
Hadley would cobble together a T-10 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am after the missed-cut carnage, but would then miss the cut at the Northern Trust Open before finding a little salvation at the Honda Classic, finishing T-24.
“I’ve kind of been struggling all year just with ball striking, just finding the planet, honestly,” Hadley said after a second-round 65 in Puerto Rico. “Yesterday (Thursday) I was just talking to my swing coach (Jeff Paton) he said just go back to the basics and I’ve always struggled with staying tall through the ball, and I just started thinking about that yesterday before my round, and I hit it great on the range, and it really started to line up yesterday.”
The win in Puerto Rico changed a lot for Hadley – a two-year exemption and the ability to set a schedule. But, unlike when he won his first time on the Web.com Tour in Raleigh and literally lost his focus, Hadley has more to play for – a trip to Augusta next month.
“Obviously I would love for it to have gotten me in the Masters,” Hadley said of the win in Puerto Rico. “But it didn’t, but that’s also great because it gives me something to work for. I can keep the foot on the pedal, and there’s something in front of me that I’m trying to get to, strive toward, which is to get inside the top 50.”
Currently 59th in the World, Hadley believes he needs a top 5 this week to boost him into the top 50 before the cut off – which is after the Valero Texas Open next week.
“I know a win will get me in both ways,” Hadley said. “Just need to go and keep playing well. I think the whole thing about just being aggressive and just sending one in there, and that’s what I’m doing.”