How self-proclaimed underdog Keith Mitchell celebrated Honda Classic win

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

How self-proclaimed underdog Keith Mitchell celebrated Honda Classic win

PGA Tour

How self-proclaimed underdog Keith Mitchell celebrated Honda Classic win

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ORLANDO – Once the autographs had all been signed, every interview granted, Keith Mitchell returned to the house where he had been staying all week at the Honda Classic.

His mom had taken a 5 a.m. flight from Chattanooga, Tenn., early Sunday morning, so she was there to watch his clinching birdie putt at PGA National and she was there to celebrate after. Fellow pros like Brandon Harkins, Joel Dahmen, J.T. Poston and several caddies changed their travel plans to stick around that night.

The full replay from Sunday’s final-round broadcast was playing in the background while they partied and listened to music. Then, once the replay showed Mitchell arrive to the 15th hole, everyone gathered around the TV and turned the music down. All of them watched the final four holes, which included a pair of birdies and a clutch 15-footer to avoid a playoff with Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler.

“It was really cool to see my reaction on TV,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “I never thought I would be there, but it looks like it happened.”

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA - MARCH 03: Keith Mitchell celebrates after making a birdie putt on the 18th green to win the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 03, 2019 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA – MARCH 03: Keith Mitchell celebrates after making a birdie putt on the 18th green to win the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 03, 2019 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Mitchell had plenty of time to reflect on it during the Tuesday morning drive to Orlando, where he’s now in the Arnold Palmer Invitational field for the first time. He’d received ‘a legit thousand’ text messages after the win and is finally all caught up on responses. His first PGA Tour victory hasn’t fully sunk in yet, but there’s plenty to think about in the coming months with spots in the Players Championship and Masters now fully secured.

“Getting to watch all the highlights of Arnold (Palmer) growing up is awesome, and it’s truly special to be part of the field this week,” Mitchell said. “So it’s going to be hard to refocus, but I’m going to have to find a way to do it because this is a great field and a great tournament.”

Where does the former no-name go from here?

Mitchell spoke with the media at length Tuesday, offering detailed, thoughtful responses about the life-changing round and all that’s happened since.

He left the media room at Bay Hill and quickly pulled a sweatshirt over his striped, light blue polo, feeling the effects of sub-60 degree temperatures and planning to play a few practice holes that afternoon.

Asked if winning for the first time on Tour was as satisfying as he’d hoped, Mitchell said it was even better.

“More. And the reason is, I was doing it for what I feel like, personally, were the right reasons,” Mitchell said. “I was doing it for the love that I had played golf forever and loved competing. … Those 15 seconds from the time the ball went in the hole and the time I got it out of the hole, it was all those emotions in one second. So I’ll play out here as long as they will let me, as long as I’m exempt, just to keep going back for that feeling.”

Mitchell doesn’t have to worry about that for a while thanks to the two-year exemption he earned at the Honda Classic. His game also figures to hold up well in the bomb-and-gouge era – Mitchell averaged 312.6 yards off the tee last season, 10th-longest on Tour, and he was seventh in strokes gained off-the-tee.

The 2014 Georgia graduate said he didn’t have a big problem with a local newspaper’s ‘No-Name Champion’ headline, a play on Mitchell’s admission that being described as a no-namer earlier in the week helped motivate him come Sunday.

“The context that it was written, it sounds like it was in good light and that’s all that matters,” Mitchell said. “I’ve probably said things 100 times that came off the wrong way.”

Thick skin is always helpful on Tour, as is newfound confidence that only a victory can bring. Even better when you can do it against two of the top players in the world in Koepka and Fowler.

“We had a great match and it was with two heavyweights, and I guess I was the underdog,” Mitchell said. “It’s fun being that guy sometimes. It’s really fun when you win.”

Mitchell might not be the underdog the next time he’s in contention. And he definitely made a name for himself Sunday.

“You see Happy Gilmore, he’s like, ‘I want the big check.’” Mitchell said. “Well, I got the big check.”

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