Reed leads Humana; 7 former Bulldogs in top 34
LA QUINTA, Calif. –– Ray Charles had Georgia on his mind. You might say Gen. William Sherman did, as well. And now so do those following the PGA Tour this week.
Seven former University of Georgia players are tied for 34th or better midway through the Humana Challenge, including leader Patrick Reed, who played there for one year before transferring to Augusta State, and second-place Brendon Todd.
Harris English, continuing his hot streak, is tied for eighth, followed by former Bulldogs Brian Harman at T-22 and Hudson Swafford, Erik Compton and Kevin Kisner at T-34. All but Compton played there in the past decade.
This merely continues a trend. Russell Henley, Chris Kirk and English won on Tour in 2013. Bubba Watson won the Masters two years ago. And it seems many more victories are on the way.
The question, then, is why are so many Georgia players Tour-ready? The answer involves strong recruiting, excellent course and practice facilities, and tough competition week after week.
Players have to compete weekly to earn one of five lineup spots for the next tournament unless they finished in the top 10 in the previous event. In that sense, it’s like the Tour, where only scores this week matter.
“It's definitely what have you done for me lately in each case,” Kirk said after winning the McGladrey Classic in November.
The team qualifiers were what Todd, Kirk’s roommate for four years, called a competitive grind.
“There were a lot of guys with hurt feelings at the end of them,” Todd said Friday. “But that definitely made us all tough players. I think we’re all guys who are willing to fight it out, no matter how we’re playing. I think the other thing (coach Chris Haack) did well is he encouraged short-game practice, which carries really well out here.”
Kirk recalls being a first-team All-American his junior year but having to qualify weekly for the next tournament as a senior.
“I knew I had to play well to make it,” Kirk said. “That’s really big. We always were very competitive against each other, and that sort of got everybody going, and everyone's continued to compete really well at the pro level.”
Haack’s team won NCAA titles in 1999 and 2005, and lost to Reed-led Augusta State in the 2011 finals, where Reed beat English in match play. The weekly qualifying was an integral part of that success.
“There’s something to said for that,” Harman said. “It keeps you sharp.”
Haack is first to admit he didn’t make things easy on his players.
“We usually played three (qualifying) rounds, and it was intense,” the coach said. “We were trying to prepare them for the future, and I think it's a reason they're playing well on tour. They have to fight for it.”
They’ll have to fight once more this week if they are going to catch Reed.
He has shot consecutive 63s for 18-under 126. Eighteen under wins most tournaments, but not here. Brian Gay won in a playoff after shooting 25 under in 2013, the second year after a move from five to four rounds. Joe Durant holds the 72-hole record of 29-under 259 on his way to 36 under in a 90-hole event.
Reed leads Todd by two shots and Ryan Palmer by three, and plays the (statistically) easiest of the tournament’s three courses Saturday – PGA West's Nicklaus Private Course.
On top of that, he said the Nicklaus fits his game best of the three courses.