Rude: Pampling's alternate route yields fitting reward

Rod Pampling during the second round of the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship.

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— Rod Pampling didn’t expect to be here – in the Wells Fargo Championship, period, much less on the leaderboard.

First, the two-time PGA Tour winner lost on the fourth hole of a Monday-qualifier playoff for the fourth and final spot. Then, as 10th alternate with no hope, he left town, driving to Athens, Ga., the next morning with intention of playing in the Web.com tournament there.

“Mentally I was down,” Pampling said.

But then a strange development unfolded Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Players started withdrawing from the Wells Fargo as if the town were on fire. They pulled out for myriad reasons, some for injuries, some apparently because they didn’t like the six splotchy greens at Quail Hollow.

As Pampling walked and scouted the University of Georgia course Tuesday afternoon, he kept checking his cellular telephone and saw that the alternate list kept changing. By early the next morning, he had moved up to second alternate. By noon he learned he was first alternate.

So he decided to check out of his Athens hotel and make the 3-hour drive back to Charlotte and hope for another dropout. He rushed to that Athens hotel to beat the 1 p.m. cutoff so he wouldn’t have to pay for another night. During the drive back here, a caddie emailed him a picture of an injured Ben Crane packing up his stuff outside the Quail Hollow clubhouse, and Pampling figured he was in the Wells Fargo field.

He got the official word around 4 p.m. when he was close to pulling in the gate.

“I’m absolutely shocked I got in (after being 10th alternate),” said Pampling, the last man in. “Having been in this position often this year, I know that the list normally moves only one or two spots.”

You might say the 43-year-old Australian has made the most of his opportunity so far. A pair of 3-under-par 69s have put him in a tie for sixth place after 36 holes, three shots behind leader Phil Mickelson and a single stroke out of second.

“With the opportunity there, I’m trying to grab as much of it as I can,” said the motivated Pampling, who has conditional PGA Tour status because he finished 127th on the 2012 money list, less than $27,000 shy of keeping his card.

So the affable Aussie extends his thanks to Crane and the others who departed.

“I’m so glad they did that,” said Pampling, who in six 2013 Tour starts has made three cuts, with a best finish of T-42 last week in New Orleans. “I’m so glad to be here. This is a great golf course.”

Interesting thing about perspective. Spotty greens to one person can look immaculate to another.

“Some guys who were here a couple of days had a negative reaction to them, but I’m more than happy to be here,” Pampling said, smiling. “These greens look good to me. I’ll putt on these for ($6.7) million.”

Pampling’s ball-striking has been what he labels “great” since late last year, but he has been held back by putting and short game and the inability to get into a rhythm while playing an on-off, partial schedule.

This week has been different, though. He putted well during the Monday qualifier and the first two rounds. A simple thought was the key: Head still.

“Before the qualifier I thought, ‘What number (putting key) are we going to try today? Let’s go with the head still. We haven’t tried that,’ ” Pampling said, smiling.

It worked, and Pampling appeared as if he would win that 6-for-1 qualifier when he faced a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 18, the second hole. But Jack Fields, a former Quail Hollow assistant pro and current eGolf Tour leading money winner, matched him from 35 feet and claimed the spot with a tap-in birdie two holes later.

But after an emotional three-day odyssey, Pampling got in anyway. And you can file his story under the banner, “Good things happen to good people.”

Here’s a glimpse into what kind of man Pampling is: After he finished 124th on the 2011 money list and earned his Tour card for ’12, he contacted tournament directors who had granted him sponsor exemptions and thanked them.

Let’s just say that kind of expressed gratitude is not the norm.

"I've been doing this 25 years. I'm not saying I've never had a guy call me and thank me for doing that, but it's the first in a long time," AT&T National tournament director Greg McLaughlin told the Associated Press. "It's very rare. All the other guys are thankful and appreciative. But rarely do I get one after the season when a guy gets his card and calls you to thank you. As far as I'm concerned, he can play in one of my tournaments if he ever needs a spot.

“He's set for life."

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