Hicks scrapes out Tour card at N’wide finale
CHARLESTON, S.C. – The big winner at this Nationwide Tour Championship partied amid the Sweet grass with a few buddies and some Buds, even as the four-hole playoff unfolded nearby. Lucky, perhaps, that his final-hole gaffe didn’t spoil his season, Justin Hicks soaked in the moment Sunday afternoon at Daniel Island. He finally was promoted.
“It tastes pretty sweet right now,” said Hicks, 36. “But there were a lot of knots in my stomach maybe 30 minutes ago.”
On a day so unpredictable that reporters and players took turns scanning the projected standings behind the scoring tent, Hicks was the last player to punch his ticket to the PGA Tour. That it came after a three-putt bogey on the 72nd hole was only fitting. And that he edged No. 26 Scott Gardiner by $2,100 made it all the more intriguing – and agonizing – for the 59 players enraptured by the final-round drama.
“I’d like to say today was a lot of fun, but it really wasn’t,” Brendan Steele said. “It was an absolute grind from the first tee shot until the end.”
And that was from the winner.
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The Nationwide Tour Championship was supposed to be the ultimate reward, a guaranteed cash-grab at Daniel Island. At least that’s what Michael Putnam anticipated.
That mindset didn’t last, of course, not after a careful examination of the projected standings on Saturday night. Only then did Putnam unearth an unsettling fact: His poor week, which coincided with superb play from several players outside the top 25, left Putnam squarely on the cut line to claim a PGA Tour card.
“I didn’t feel like there was any chance I wouldn’t finish in the top 25,” said Putnam, who began the week No. 19 on the money list, “and now, it’s like the perfect storm is happening against me. I don’t like rooting against players, but I’ll probably do that today.”
He was joking, sort of, and in the players’ lounge, he kept an eye on both the live telecast and the projected money list. “This sucks,” he said. “It’s a bad position to be in.”
Still, things could have gone terribly wrong for Putnam on the par-5 18th. Clinging to the 24th spot, and with one more full shot to navigate – a sand wedge from 95 yards, to a flag tucked on the left side of the green, with water looming, with a stiff breeze blowing into his face – Putnam delivered. He stuck a wedge to 4 feet, drawing an impromptu concession from playing competitor Jeff Curl, who walked over and slapped the 6-4, 215-pounder on the back. Putnam was safe, having wrapped up the 24th spot on the money list. “Well done, buddy boy,” Curl said.
Hicks, playing a few groups behind, then needed to two-putt from 40 feet on 18 to maintain his position at No. 25, all the while hoping James Hahn, who began the day tied for second, didn’t author a back-nine rally and surge back up the leaderboard. (That never materialized, as Hahn had four three-putts on his way to a 77.) Despite watching D.J. Brigman nestle his ball close on virtually the same line, Hicks blew his first putt well past the cup and missed the comebacker. It was his fifth bogey in the last eight holes, and he signed for a 76. All Hicks could do was wait.
Conducting post-round interviews as if he’d coughed up a chance for his card, Hicks was asked how he’d spend the next two hours. “Maybe go have a stiff drink,” he said, eyeing the clubhouse. “See if they’ve got a good bottle of Tanqueray in there or something. What else are you going to do?”
Wait, helplessly, though more clarity came from Joe Affrunti, who seemed poised to jump into the top 25 and claim his card until the wind pushed his tee shot into the water on 16, leading to a bogey. But he secured his card two holes later, making birdie on the 18th after laying up in a divot.
“It’s awesome, are you kidding me?” Affrunti said. “You can’t beat it. I can go play for more money. I can go to cooler places. What more can you ask for?”
The final birdie also knocked out Gardiner, this year’s hard-luck loser. Three birdies in his first six holes Sunday, and seemingly well on his way to slipping back inside the cut line, Gardiner squandered his slim chance with a triple bogey on the par-3 12th, when his tee shot caromed off a cart path and went out of bounds.
“It would have been easy to play like crap the rest of the day, but I came out there and fought,” said Gardiner, who tied for 24th at Daniel Island. “I tried to put up as good a number as I could. There’s a lot of tension coming down the stretch.”
But even Gardiner couldn’t overlook the arithmetic. He was last seen agonizing over the projection laptops, staring blankly at the disheartening figures: He was No. 26, a mere $2,100 behind Hicks. Gardiner groaned and walked slowly into the players’ lounge. On to Q-School.
“You saw golf at its finest today,” Hicks cracked, and he surely had a point.
Only at the Nationwide finale can the tournament winner be rendered a side note.
Nationwide Tour graduates:
- Jamie Lovemark, $452,951
- Chris Kirk, 411,206
- Hunter Haas, 408,047
- Tommy Gainey, 403,957
- Daniel Summerhays, 391,742
- Brendan Steele, 346,258
- Jhonattan Vegas, 336,334
- Martin Piller, 331,927
- Kevin Chappell, 326,507
- Tag Ridings, 282,616
- Kevin Kisner, 279,292
- Fabian Gomez, 265,390
- David Mathis, 265,385
- Keegan Bradley, 264,760
- Colt Knost, 261,090
- Bobby Gates, 259,401
- Steven Bowditch, 257,283
- D.J. Brigman, 246,769
- Jim Herman, 238,847
- Scott Gutschewski, 236,082
- David Hearn, 230,440
- Joe Affrunti, 229,433
- Peter Tomasulo, 223,812
- Michael Putnam, 220,277
- Justin Hicks, 209,259