For PGA Tour rookies and unproven players, the overriding goal is to keep their tour card.
In that regard, 2010 was a success for both Blake Adams and Kris Blanks, respectively a rookie and sophomore coming into last year. Both players cracked the top 100 on the money list to achieve that aim, but neither was entirely satisfied with how things went last season.
Adams, who grew up in Dalton and Eatonton, played on the golf team at Georgia Southern and now lives in rural, southeast Georgia, overcame his annual battle with injury to end the year 98th on the money list with $964,000.
Blanks, a native of Warner Robins who spent several years as an assistant at The Landings in Savannah, enjoyed a solid second season on the tour, earning $1.1 million to finish 82nd on the money list, 88 spots higher than in his rookie season in 2009.
It took both players a while to reach golf’s major leagues, with Adams making his first ever PGA Tour start last year at the age of 34 and Blanks a 36-year-old rookie in 2009. Both were in their 30s when they debuted on the Nationwide Tour.
After finishing up at Georgia Southern in 2001, Adams toiled on various mini-tours before qualifying for the Nationwide Tour in 2007. His breakthrough season came in 2009, when he set a tour record for earnings by a non-winner with almost $400,000 to finish 3rd on the money list.
Adams continued his quality play through the first half of his rookie season on the PGA Tour before his ailing left hip took a toll and turned a promising rookie season into a less successful one.
“The first part of the year I played a lot of golf and just wore it slap out,” said the folksy Adams, who has been fighting problems with the hip for a number of years.
After his second year on the Nationwide Tour in 2008, Adams spent several months rehabbing the hip before the start of the ’09 season, and credits that work with enabling him to remain healthy throughout his standout showing that year.
“I’ve always felt that if I was healthy I could play out here,” Adams said during his next-to-last start of 2010 in the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island GC.
Doctors told him in 2008 that he likely would need a hip replacement, but Adams elected to undergo extensive rehabilitation, and the hip held up until midway through last season. Fortunately for Adams, he had put together several solid efforts and one very profitable week before the injury flared up and limited his effectiveness the rest of the year.
Adams placed 25th in his first ever PGA Tour start in Hawaii and played very well at Pebble Beach and in Houston before introducing himself to the nation’s golf fans in the Byron Nelson Championship. Adams shared the lead after each of the first two rounds, and was just two strokes back of leader Jason Day heading to the final round.
After briefly taking a one-stroke lead early on the back nine, Adams was just one behind Day going to the final hole, and was given an opening when Day hit his second shot on the par-4 into water guarding the left side of the green. But Adams had hit his tee shot off line, and faced a shot from a hardpan lie that had to negotiate some overhanging limbs.
Adams’ second shot nicked one of the limbs and deflected it enough to the left that he also found the water. Day was able to scramble for bogey and the win, while Adams took a double bogey and wound up in a three-way tie for 2nd.
Despite his disappointment, Adams left with a check for $485,333, which represented just over half of his earnings for the year. He played well again the next week at Colonial, sharing the first round lead with a 63, but his balky hip began acting up the next week at Memorial, where he was playing for the seventh time in eight weeks, and he only had one more decent finish the remainder of the season.
“After that, I was in rough shape,” Adams said. “But since I had locked up my card by June, I was very, very pleased. That was my number one goal – to retain my card.”
Even though he was not 100 percent the second half of the season, Adams managed to make the cut in five of his last six starts, and took one for the team in the season finale at Disney, bringing his two young children with him to the popular family tour stop.
After achieving his primary goal as a rookie, Adams has one simple wish for 2011 – good health. If his wish is granted, he figures everything else will work out.
As for Blanks, his concerns are less about his health and more about his putting, which inflicted its own brand of pain on him for much of the 2010 season.
Blanks’ ball striking stats on the year were excellent. He was 8th on tour in greens in regulation and finished among the top 50 in total driving. But his putting numbers were among the poorest on tour, and although they didn’t prevent him from keeping his tour card, that did keep him from having an even better season than he did.
“It’s not much fun out here when you’re putting poorly,” said Blanks after a missed cut in the McGladrey Classic.
Despite his occasional struggles on the greens, Blanks put together a number of very profitable weeks, beginning with his first serious shot at a win on the PGA Tour.
Blanks came into the final round of the Puerto Rico Classic, an event held opposite the WGC tournament at Doral, three shots behind leader Kevin Streelman. Blanks shot 69 to overtake the leader, but was passed by Derek Lamely, who closed with scores of 63 and 66 to finish two in front of Blanks, who finished second outright.
Lamely played well in front of the leaders and posted his score just as Blanks was beginning his final nine. After carding four birdies on his first 12 holes, Blanks needed one more to force a playoff, but played those last six holes 1-over.
Blanks took home second place of money of $378,000, and used that week as a springboard to contend again a month later in a higher profile venue, tying for 5th at Hilton Head.
“That was my whole year,” Blanks said of his showing in Puerto Rico. Although he was disappointed he didn’t take complete advantage of his opportunity, Blanks took away more positives than negatives from his runner-up finish.
“I don’t feel like I let it slip away at the finish, but I should have closed the deal.”
Blanks, who won once in his three seasons on the Nationwide Tour, added a third top 10 later in the season in Hartford, and also played well at Colonial and in the Deutsche Bank Championship, one of the FedExCup Playoffs events. He was in contention in the Deutsche Bank after 36 holes, but with a chance at some serious cash on the line, “didn’t do much on the weekend.”
Blanks, who also won three times on the Hooters Tour as well as several Georgia PGA events, believes he can accomplish that feat at golf’s highest level.
“This year I played five or six tournaments somewhat to my ability. But I haven’t played one yet where I played four days as good as I can play.”