Thatcher all smiles after 2nd-place showing

Roland Thatcher is all smiles after realizing he placed solo second and retained his PGA Tour card.

Roland Thatcher is all smiles after realizing he placed solo second and retained his PGA Tour card.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Only on the final day of the PGA Tour season can the guy who began the day with a four-shot lead, who threw away three shots down the stretch, who shook in a par putt to finish a sloppy second, leave Disney World with the widest smile. Roland Churchill Thatcher IV approached this Children’s Miracle Network Classic as a tune-up for the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School, which begins Tuesday in Houston. Four improbable rounds altered those travel plans, and now, as winter approaches, Thatcher knows what to do when that refunded $4,500 Q-School check arrives in the mail. 

“I’m going to put that money aside for something special,” Thatcher, 33, said, smiling. 

With a nervy 5-foot par putt on the 72nd hole, Thatcher finished solo second, three shots behind winner Robert Garrigus, to earn $507,600 and become one of only three players to move inside the top 125 (No. 122) in the final event of the season. It was a relieving end to a nerve-wracking day, the kind, Thatcher said, that “only happens in the last event of the year.” 

Claiming his card seemed a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the day, what with Thatcher staked to a four-shot lead. But he kept a keen eye on the projected money list. And when stray shots became more frequent, when his name no longer was affixed atop the leaderboard, Thatcher played this final round to finish solo second. “Once you get in that mindset,” he said, “you’re going to make a lot of mistakes – and I did.” 

Thatcher had a two-shot lead before three-putting on 12. Another three-putt followed on 16. And after making bogey from the middle of the 17th fairway, it seemed Thatcher suddenly went from playing Kapalua in the season-opening event to needing a trip to Q-School. That Thatcher even had an opportunity at the end was surprising, for he walked down the 18th fairway having slipped to No. 131 on the projected money list. But Spencer Levin three-putted from 55 feet on the final green, leaving Thatcher with a 5-foot putt to wrap up a PGA Tour card for next season. 

“I couldn’t imagine a more stressful moment in my life,” said Thatcher, who closed with 72 and finished at 18-under 270. “I was just so amazed that I had an opportunity at the end. With how things were going, I was kind of amazed that I was able to settle down.  ... Somehow I got my hands to stop shaking enough to make a stroke and get it to go in.” 

Afterward, he was stopped by players, caddies and fans who praised him for his gritty play down the stretch. “You will never see a happier guy who vomited away a golf tournament,” he cracked. 

And so a player who entered the week at No. 179 on the money list, with only one top-10 finish in 2010 and 10 missed cuts in his past 15 starts, clinched his Tour card for another season. Asked where this kind of play came from, Thatcher hadn’t an answer. 

“No clue,” he shrugged. “I wish it was something that I could identify and lock into, but I rolled the putter better than I have all year. Certain things fell into place.” 

Only on the final day of the season. 

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