The days of young golfers earning their keep on the PGA Tour and grinding out a few character-building years before they’re “ready” to win are long gone.
Aaron Wise proved that point Sunday when he ran away from the field for a three-shot victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Wise, a 21-year-old rookie, shot 6-under 65 in the final round, which began four hours later than scheduled due to a rain delay.
“It’s a dream come true to win this one,” said Wise, who shot 23-under 261 for the week.
Wise started the day tied for the lead with Marc Leishman, a three-time Tour winner. The young guy never blinked, ripping off six birdies in seven holes beginning at the par-4 fourth and culminating in a 17-foot birdie putt at 10. Leishman couldn’t keep pace and finished second at 20 under.
Branden Grace, J.J. Spaun and Keith Mitchell finished T-3 at 19 under, and 2016 PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker tied for sixth at 16 under with Ryan Blaum and Kevin Na.
Wise finished T-2 in his last start at the Wells Fargo Championship, two shots behind Jason Day, and left Quail Hollow with plenty of confidence.
“Just a ton of self-belief,” Wise said. “It was always there, but to do it on this stage, to know I’ve done it, really helped me today. I felt oddly calm all day long and to play as good as I did, bogey free, was awesome.”
There’s certainly something to be said for experience on Tour, especially when it comes to course management at long-standing venues. Wise wasn’t at much of a disadvantage in that regard, considering Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas played host for the first time. The wind stayed calm for much of the week and the setup was on the conservative side, hence the large chunk of low scores. Still, Jordan Spieth is a member there and finished 12 shots behind Wise for the week at 11 under.
It seemed only a matter of time until Wise reached the winner’s circle on Tour, and he got there in just his 26th start to continue a steady progression of success. That places him in elite company and ahead of superstars such as Justin Thomas, who first won in his 43rd start, and Day, who took 64 to break through. Spieth reached the milestone just a hair quicker, winning in his 24th start.
Wise started getting serious national recognition when he won the 2016 NCAA individual championship in his sophomore year at Oregon. Two months later he won in just his second professional start on Canada’s Mackenzie Tour, and last year he captured the Air Capital Classic in his eighth Web.com Tour start.
Sunday he took the next big step, cementing his Tour status for the next two seasons.
Overall, it was a strong opening week for Trinity Forest, with just a few players in vocal opposition of the unique links-style course. The PGA Tour hopes to maintain a long-term relationship with the club, which seems more than reasonable given how this week went.
In that sense, it was the perfect place for Wise to break through. The lanky young man, who still easily could pass for a high school student, officially arrived this week in Dallas. And there’s little doubt he’ll be a serious contender for years to come. Gwk