Long-hitting Brandon Hagy turns heads at Puerto Rico Open

Associated Press

Long-hitting Brandon Hagy turns heads at Puerto Rico Open

PGA Tour

Long-hitting Brandon Hagy turns heads at Puerto Rico Open

RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico – PGA Tour veteran Michael Bradley, a two-time champion of the Puerto Rico Open, did not have to venture far to get a view of the future the past couple days at Trump International Golf Club – Puerto Rico. The 48-year-old was playing right alongside it.

Bradley, who was one of the tour’s most prodigious hitters when he came out more than two decades ago, still hits it long, and found it curious after hitting an iron off the 430-yard 10th hole to open the first round that fellow competitors Peter Uihlein and Brandon Hagy shunned 3-woods and followed suit, both hitting irons.

Interesting, Bradley thought to himself.

At the 465-yard 12th hole, Bradley stepped up first and ripped a driver down the fairway. Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion, stepped to the tee and belted a drive 25 yards past Bradley … and then Hagy then ripped a tee shot some 25 yards past that.

“There were a couple of times when, if I hit it good and he (Hagy) hit it good, he was going to be 40 or 50 yards by me,” Bradley said. “And I’ve still got some pop in my bat. It’s fun to watch, a little tougher to compete against, especially when he’s hitting it where he’s aimed and you’re coming in with four or five clubs more … hey, good for him. I hope he does really well this weekend.”

Hagy, participating in only his third PGA Tour start two weeks shy of his 24th birthday, has folks talking at the Puerto Rico Open, and it’s not only for his incredible length. He’s been displaying a full game at windswept Trump International, and hopes to follow the example set by Chesson Hadley here a year ago in transitioning from relative unknown rookie to PGA Tour winner.

“That’s the plan,” said Hagy, a sponsor exemption who birdied six of his first 10 holes Friday and shot 5-under 67. He stands at 6-under 138 heading to the weekend, just one shot behind tournament leader Alex Cejka (67).

“You know, I feel like with my length off the tee if I can hit some really good shots, and I feel like I can put myself in better situations to go at pins,” Hagy said. “It’s just a matter of me controlling my trajectory because I usually hit it pretty high. So if I can control my trajectory and hit some solid shots, I absolutely think I can give myself a chance to win.”

Hagy is an impressive young man. He earned college golf’s 2014 Byron Nelson Award, an honor given for athletic and academic excellence, as well as integrity and character. He was an All-America standout on the course, winning four times, and off it he graduated from Cal’s prestigious Haas School of Business, one of the nation’s most prominent business schools.

Since turning pro, he’s been staying patient and doing what he can to stay sharp and get starts. He made it through three pre-qualifiers but failed to advance through three Monday Qualifying starts on the PGA Tour, and has gone 0-for-5 trying to Monday qualify on the Web.com Tour. But Puerto Rico marks the start of an active stretch, as he’ll venture to Brazil for a Web.com start next week (Brasil Champions) and has been extended an invitation into the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Earlier this year, Hagy competed at Humana (missed cut) and AT&T Pebble Beach, where he tied for 34th. The result at Humana, where the cut fell at 54 holes, taught him the value of every single shot; he missed by one.

The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Hagy, an athlete who played football and basketball in high school, has a swing speed of 128 mph, and at Pebble Beach he led all players in the driving categories. He not only led in distance (324.5 yards), but also in carry (314.4 yards) and ball speed (190.38 mph). On Thursday at Trump International, Hagy reached the downwind, 630-yard closing hole with driver and 4-iron (from 250 yards).

Cal coach Steve Desimone knew the Bears had something special the first day his new recruits hit the practice tee a handful of years ago, as Hagy arrived in a class that included Max Homa (also playing in Puerto Rico) and Michael Weaver.

“When you’re on the range, you walk down the line looking at those cookie-cutter swings, and when you get within about 30 or 35 yards of Brandon … there’s just a different sound off the clubhead,” Desimone said.

“We’re seeing the growth and development of a very good player. When he first came to us, he was nondescript. He was a high achiever in high school, really bright, a hard worker. You thought if there was more there, he would find it.”

In Puerto Rico, Hagy continues to find it. Two days to go, and he has an incredible opportunity in front of him.

“Seeing how he played at AT&T, it doesn’t surprise me (that Hagy is playing well and in contention),” Desimone said. “He’s a very special young man. I figured at some point, he would get there.”

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