2005: PGA - In Big D, Big Five no match for Purdy
The EDS Byron Nelson Championship began abuzz about golf’s so-called Big Five competing together for only the fourth time in 10 months. Then Tiger Woods sounded alarms by missing his first cut in about 100 years (OK, seven actually), and U.S. Open specialist Retief Goosen also failed to qualify for Saturday, predictably in a slightly more hushed manner. Then something of a Little Five hogged the leaderboard just about all the way.
The marquee often listed the unlikely names of Ted Purdy, Sean O’Hair, Doug Barron, Jaxon Brigman and Brett Wetterich. This unheralded lineup of little-knowns so confounded one Dallas reporter that he wrote after the second round, “The only question that came to mind (after Purdy’s news conference) was, ‘Who are you?’ ”
By weekend’s end we had an emphatic answer: Nelson champion, instant millionaire and the PGA Tour’s third first-time winner in five weeks. The engaging Purdy, shedding his to-Asia-and-back journeyman reputation at 31, hauled away $1.1 million along with newfound fame.
“The Fab Five was here and No. 177 in the world won,” the third-year Tour player said after his 15-under-par 265 edged rookie O’Hair by one stroke. “That tells you how good the players out here are.”
Actually Purdy was No. 173. That was about the only mistake he made on the final day.
Purdy made seven birdies without a bogey the final 27 holes at the TPC at Las Colinas. He hit 17 greens in regulation and one fringe during a closing 65 he called his best round ever. He entered the Nelson ranked 126th in greens in regulation (63.5 percent) but led the category here at 81.9 percent.
Purdy improved his accuracy for a couple of reasons. He switched from a new-model Titleist Pro V1 to last year’s version and said he was able to control his irons and shape his drives better. And he played much more conservatively, aiming away from pins on the advice of veteran caddie Paul (Pablo) Jungman, who had won with Fred Funk and Kirk Triplett. Jungman told Purdy the day before the tournament, “Give me the reins this week and we’ll win.”
“I’m surprised such a conservative approach netted the big prize,” said Purdy. “I guess I’m learning to win. My caddie just steered me around. I did whatever he said. He deserves a raise.”
Purdy beat Woods twice during their junior and college days but never before during their nine professional years. While Woods dominated world golf, Purdy honed his game in Asia in 1997-2003. Purdy played the PGA Tour in 1999, but made only eight cuts in 27 starts and ranked 230th.
“Ten years of underachieving,” Purdy said.
Before becoming a husband and father and settling down, he was something of a party guy. He figured he had the swing and game to succeed but learned he lacked discipline and structure. “I was single and there are a lot of beautiful women in Dallas and these other cities, too, so I was just having a good time,” said the man who lists Jimmy Buffet as his hero.
Wife Arlene is expecting again and Purdy prefers the name Byron, as in Nelson, if it’s a boy. Arlene and first child Samuel gave him a card with two messages before he teed off here. He kept it in his wallet for inspiration. The card read: “You can do it, we love you” and “Win on the Tour in 2005.”
He came close to winning twice last year, finishing second at the MCI Heritage and B.C. Open. Those experiences paid off here, he said. Purdy missed a 3-footer that would have gotten him into a B.C. playoff. At Harbour Town, where Purdy led by four strokes after three rounds, Stewart Cink got a favorable, controversial ruling in a waste area en route to making birdie on the fifth playoff hole. Purdy has been critical of the fact that Cink flicked stones from behind the ball and says the “questionable” call has negatively affected him since.
“Now I can definitely let that go,” he said.
Ranked No. 324 in the world and previously without a top 10, O’Hair finished only his 12th Tour event by birdieing two of the last three holes. He excelled largely because of wonderful driving, both for distance (fifth) and accuracy (T-1).
O’Hair, at 22 the Tour’s second-youngest member, is a delightful, polite fellow with a sad past but bright future. Though he fell short in trying to become only the 12th player under 23 to win on Tour since 1970, O’Hair rose to 32nd in earnings and locked up his card for 2006.
“I thought it would take me a lot longer to get comfortable out here,” he said. “There’s nothing negative about this. I played my guts out and learned a lot about myself and how to play.”
He has grown up fast, all right. He turned pro at 17, after his junior year of high school, at the urging of his overbearing father, Marc. Traveling by car, he tried qualifying for Nationwide Tour events for a few years without success and then played mini-tours. The father had the son sign a contract promising the father 10 percent of Sean’s earnings for life. He would make him run at least a mile after over-par rounds. He pulled him out of a junior event after a bad showing. There was yelling. Sean thought about quitting the game after being pushed so hard.
The two haven’t spoken to each other in more than two years, though the father said recently that once his son got famous he’d send copies of the contract to the media. But now Sean feels safe while traveling the Tour with his wife, Jackie, 18-month-old daughter Molly and father-in-law/caddie Steve Lucas. His mother and sister also followed him here.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “I definitely think I’ve got the right team.”
As for his estranged father, he said, “I love my dad. I hope he’s doing well. That’s all I have to say.”