Former Georgia Tech golfer Chesson Hadley had something of an up-and-down four years with the Yellow Jackets and has repeated his college experience during his young career as a tour professional.
Hadley was honorable mention All-America as a freshman and a first team selection as a sophomore before struggling for most of his junior season and part of his senior campaign, before a late surge earned honorable mention All-America status for a second time.
As a pro, Hadley enjoyed an outstanding first season on the Web.com Tour to quickly advance to the PGA Tour and was Rookie of the Year with a win in his first season in golf’s major leagues.
But after a respectable second season, Hadley followed his college path with a difficult third year on the PGA Tour and had to head back to the Web.com Tour for the 2017 season.
Hadley responded with another exceptional showing on that tour, winning twice and finishing the year as the No. 1 money winner to return to the PGA Tour with full status.
It hasn’t taken Hadley long to stamp himself as a player to watch on the 2017-18 PGA Tour. He tied for third in the season-opening event in Napa, Calif., and in his next start in Jackson, Miss., placed second. After just two tournaments, he is fifth in the FedExCup standings and appears headed for an even better season than his Rookie of the Year effort in 2014.
Hadley arrived at Georgia Tech from his home in Raleigh, N.C., and broke into the starting lineup as a freshman in the spring, tying for 15th in his first start in Hawaii. He closed out his freshman season with three straight top 10 finishes, placing ninth in the ACC Championship, seventh in Tech’s NCAA Regional appearance and fourth in the NCAA Championship to climb to 51st in the final individual NCAA ranking for the year and earn honorable mention All-America status.
As a sophomore, Hadley picked right up where he left off as a freshman. He won Tech’s season opener at the Carpet Capital Collegiate at The Farm outside Dalton and followed with top-10 finishes in his next four starts for the Yellow Jackets. At one point he was ranked No. 1 in the country before ending the year at No. 8 after a series of solid showings in the spring, ending the year as a first team All-American and earning a spot on the 2008 Palmer Cup team.
But Hadley’s junior season did not go nearly as well. Coming into the conference championship, he had three top-20 finishes, three events in which he finished near the bottom of the standings and was not in the lineup for three other tournaments. A final round 66 helped Tech win the ACC and propelled him to a tie for third, but he could not match his performance as a freshman in either regionals or NCAA Championship.
Most of Hadley’s senior season was a repeat of his junior year. He had some solid efforts alongside others that weren’t as successful and again spent three tournaments on the bench. But Hadley had one more stretch of outstanding play in him and finished his career the way he concluded his freshman season. He shot 10-under to win individual honors in the ACC Championship, closed with scores of 69-68 to tie for eighth in Tech’s regional and closed with a 69 to tie for 14th in the NCAA Championship and help lead the Yellow Jackets into the match play quarterfinals.
But he ran up against Augusta State’s Patrick Reed and lost 1-up at No. 1 singles, becoming one of six players to lose to Reed in the six matches Augusta won en route to back-to-back NCAA Championships.
Hadley spent two years on the mini-tours, mainly the defunct eGolf Tour which played primarily in his home state, winning a tournament in 2012 before qualifying for the 2013 Web.com Tour later in the year.
After a relatively slow start, Hadley made his first mark in the BMW Pro-Am in Greenville, S.C., closing with scores of 65-63 to tie for third at 21-under. He added four more top-3 finishes the rest of the season, placing second in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, third in Kansas City and collecting a pair of wins, the first of which will always be close to Hadley’s heart.
Hadley trailed Danny Lee by five shots going into the final round of the Rex Hospital Classic in his hometown of Raleigh, with Hadley being born in the hospital that serves as the event’s title sponsor. He shot 64 the final day to win by two at 19-under and closed out his rookie season on the tour by winning the Web.com Tour Championship outside Jacksonville, ending the year third on the money list with more than $300,000.
In his second start as a PGA Tour member, Hadley tied for fifth in Las Vegas and added a tie for 10th at Pebble Beach. He shot 21-under in the opposite field event in Puerto Rico to again win by two over Lee and was 20th in the FedExCup standings after his victory. But he closed out the regular season with 10 missed cuts in his last 11 starts before finding his game in time for the Playoffs.
Hadley tied for ninth in Boston and for 12th at Cherry Hills in Colorado to finish 49th on the points list and earn Rookie of the Year honors. He enjoyed a decent sophomore season in 2015 with three top 10s, including a tie for fourth in the Texas Open, but struggled in the Playoffs to drop from 83 on the points list at the end of the regular season to 98.
Apart from a tie for 11th at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, Hadley suffered through a dismal 2015-16 season, missing 14 of 27 cuts and ending up 159 on the points list, sending him back to the Web.com Tour for 2017.
A return to his hometown event provided the spark Hadley needed to enjoy another highly successful season. Although he lost in a playoff in Raleigh, that tournament started Hadley on a path that included four more chances at victory and he cashed in twice, first in an event on Lake Erie, where he shot 64-65 on the weekend to win by one at 23-under.
Hadley also shot 23-under in Springfield, Mo., to tie for third, two behind the winner, and again closed out his season in style. Hadley followed a one-stroke victory in Boise with a playoff loss the next week in Cleveland, giving him $562,475 in earnings for the year.
After his victory in the event on Lake Erie, Hadley reflected in the rollercoaster ride he had taken since his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve won – three years — and I’ve went to the bottom,” he said. “Winning on Tour and Rookie of the Year; you do this and do that and you start to spiral. You lose your confidence and get negative.
“I’ve gone from the top to the bottom and it doesn’t take long.”
Two months later, Hadley won again in Boise to put himself in position to finish the season number one in earnings, which he accomplished with his runner-up finish the next week.
“I’ve proved to myself that I’m good enough to play on Tour,” he observed after the victory in Idaho. “When you lose your card, you start thinking and you get to some pretty dark places. It’s so awesome to be going back there.
“I’m kind of fired up about getting that number one spot.”
As a past champion, Hadley got into seven PGA Tour events this past season, but a tie for 25th in the John Deere Classic was his best finish.
Hadley had a chance to win in his first PGA Tour start of 2017-18, beginning the final round in Napa one shot off the lead. Although he moved past the third round leader, Hadley wound up tied for third, three shots behind winner Brendan Steele after a final round 73.
Three weeks later, Hadley finished as runner-up to Ryan Armour in Jackson, posting a 14-under total to finish five shots back. The key shot for Hadley was his second to the par-5 14th from 280 yards, which he hit to five feet for eagle, providing his two-stroke margin over the third place finisher.
Hadley’s runner-up finish in the PGA Tour opener follows a season in which players with ties to Georgia placed second in 14 of 47 PGA Tour events.
Five of the players with runner-up finishes in 2016-17 are off to relatively fast starts in 2017-18.
Savannah native Brian Harman, who tied second in the U.S. Open and won the Wells Fargo in Wilmington, N.C., had a pair of top-10 finishes during the recent Asian swing, tying for fifth in South Korea and placing eighth in the WGC event in Shanghai. Harman, a former UGA golfer who is living on St. Simons Island, is 19th on the points list.
Luke List, who grew up in north Georgia and tied for second last year in Mississippi, is 25th after tying for 13th in Malaysia and for fifth in South Korea. Augusta native Scott Brown, who was second in Los Angeles and shared second with fellow Aiken, S.C., resident Kevin Kisner in the team event in New Orleans, is 29th in points after also tying for fifth in South Korea.
Recent Georgia Tech standout Ollie Schniederjans of Powder Springs, who lost a duel with Henrik Stenson in Greensboro, is 32nd in the FedExCup standings after placing between 17th and 23rd in each of the first three events on the 2017-18 schedule. Augusta native Charles Howell, who was second in 2016-17 in both San Diego and Washington, D.C., is 35th after tying for 19th in South Korea and for 15th in the WGC event in China.
Harman and Howell are likely to be two of the favorites when the PGA Tour closes out the fall portion of its 2017-18 schedule in the RSM Classic at Sea Island GC Nov. 16-19.