BLUFFTON, S.C. – Scott Vincent’s summer has quickly become about much more than summer-school classes. The Virginia Tech senior understands the importance of collecting a multitude of experiences on the golf course, and Sunday at Berkeley Hall Golf Club he made a double check on his list.
Vincent prevailed on a day when half a dozen amateur players had a real chance to claim the Players Amateur title and the RBC Heritage exemption that goes with it. The back nine became a horse race after an unexpected series of events – 54 holes in, the Players looked like it would be a Garrett Rank runaway. Canadian Rank broke the course record in Round 2, and took a six-shot lead into the final.
“You’re starting the day so many shots back, you never really know what’s going to happen but it’s definitely not in your favor,” Vincent said. “I knew that, and I knew it was going to take something special or the opposite, where he was going to fall back a bit, which he ended up doing.”
It happened at the par-4 seventh. Rank hit it out of bounds, then four-putted for a quadruple-bogey 8. That mistake – combined with a bogey at No. 2 and several birdies from pursuers – completely erased Rank’s lead, letting a handful of players back in the tournament.
Leaderboards were scarce around Berkeley Hall, but the noise from Rank’s gallery carried two groups forward to defending champion Hunter Stewart’s group. Shortly after Stewart passed the leaderboard behind No. 9 green, which still showed Rank at 12 under, he heard the noise and knew something was off.
Stewart eagled the par-5 12th hole after hitting his second shot onto the green from 260 yards and suddenly was right in the mix. He had eagled the par-5 sixth earlier in the day, too.
“I just knew that there were some birdies to be had on those last five holes,” Stewart said. “That was kind of exciting, just to have a chance. That’s why you come.”
Three groups ahead of him, Todd White also made a mid-round run. White, in the Players field for the 12th time in the tournament’s 15-year history, made the turn at 3 under. When Rank quadruple bogeyed, White was among the men in the mix.
Midway through the round, White plucked good friend Kevin King out of a heavily local crowd and handed over his Furman-emblazoned Sunday bag. A bogey at No. 10 slowed his momentum, but White dropped a 20-footer for birdie at No. 15. He had to play aggressively all the way in. Gunning for one last birdie at the 18th, he made his only three-putt of the week and finished with a final-round 2-under 70. At 7 under for the tournament, White tied for sixth.
“Coming into the week, I could feel the tide turning for me,” White said. “Getting back to the way I was playing last year. It’s very encouraging going forward to Western (Amateur) and U.S. Amateur.”
Vincent’s most crucial move came at the par-4 15th, where he dropped a 30-footer for birdie as Rank, then with a one-shot lead, three-putted for bogey. Suddenly, at 10 under for the tournament, Vincent was in the lead with three holes to play.
“There was a lot going on,” Vincent said. “I just tried to keep myself in the present.”
Ahead, Stewart birdied No. 17 to tie Vincent, but the Virginia Tech player took his advantage back with a birdie at No. 17, too. He completed an easy two-putt par at No. 18 for a final-round 68 and an 11-under 277 total. Rank, meanwhile, chipped in for birdie to end the day with 3-over 75. He was 10 under for the tournament.
“I probably became too conservative today and didn’t stay aggressive,” Rank said.
Stewart also come up one shot short in his attempt for a title defense, but after a legitimate run, walked away with his chin up.
Rank had a plane to catch shortly after the conclusion of the final round in order to make a first-round tee time for the U.S. Amateur Public Links that was less than 24 hours away. The Players is the second tournament Rank, of Elmira, Ontario, has come close to winning this summer. He also took the lead into the final round of the Monroe Invitational in June, only to fall three shots short of eventual winner and fellow Canadian Taylor Pendrith.
Rank’s putter was noticeably colder Sunday. His six-shot lead was the biggest he had owned entering the final round of a tournament, and post-round, Rank acknowledged he needed more experience in that situation, especially with the RBC Heritage exemption on the line. It would have been Rank’s first PGA Tour start.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t deserve it today,” Rank said. “I made a mess of one hole, but other than that it was good. I tried to hang in it and battle back, but I came up one short.”
As for Vincent, who collected three collegiate victories at Virginia Tech during the 2013-14 season and became the first Hokie to win First Team All-America honors, the Players becomes his biggest amateur victory to date. The Heritage will also be his first start in a professional event. Vincent can feel himself and his game maturing.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just getting more experience,” Vincent said. “Coming from a country where there’s not that many big tournaments and then coming and playing at the collegiate level, it’s just a big step and it’s continually been getting better. Fortunately my game has also been developing along the way.”
Vincent hasn’t been home to Zimbabwe since last January, and thanks to summer classes (six hours, to be exact) and playing the summer amateur circuit, likely won’t get home for another six months. He has fingers crossed that his mom Alison will make it stateside to see him play in the U.S. Amateur next month.
Until then, Vincent will play the Southern Amateur and the Western Amateur.
“Hopefully this will help me get going,” Vincent said of his Players victory.
He doesn’t seem the type to need any extra motivation.