Former UGA golfer Sepp Straka became the fourth Georgia resident to win on the Web.com Tour over the past two months, capturing the Kansas City Golf Classic Sunday.
Straka, in his second season on the tour, emerged with his first victory after a back-and-forth battle in the final round with playing partner Kyle Jones. Straka and Jones had separated themselves from the rest of the field after 54 holes, with Jones one shot ahead of Straka and the next closest player six off the lead.
Jones had at least a share of the lead after each of the first three rounds, with Straka no more than one shot behind him at any point. Straka posted scores of 64-65-64 the first three days on the par 71 Nicklaus GC at LionsGate, trailing Jones by one after the first and third rounds and being tied for the lead after 36 holes.
Straka bogeyed the opening hole in Sunday’s final round to fall two shots behind Jones, but that was the only time all day the margin between the two players was more than one stroke. Birdies at holes 2, 3 and 5 gave Straka a 1-shot lead, and he never trailed after that, although Jones pulled into a tie with him three times on the back nine.
While Straka had something of an up-and-down final round with six birdies and four bogeys for a 69, Jones hung around par all day with two birdies and two bogeys for a 71. Bogeys at holes 10 and 14 dropped Straka back into a tie at the top, but he regained his lead with birdies at 12 and 15 and matched Jones’ birdie at the 13th to stay ahead.
Another bogey by Straka at the par-4 16th dropped him back into a tie for the third time on the back nine, and after both players parred the 17th, they went to the 18th hole tied at 22-under. Both players drove into a fairway bunker at the 18th, with Straka winding up in the sand with his second shot while Jones was in the fringe.
Two of Straka’s three bogeys on the back nine came after he hit his approach to a par 4 into in a greenside bunker, but he got up and down for par from the sand at 18 for the second time in his round, while Jones made a bogey to give Straka the victory.
Straka joins former Georgia teammate Joey Garber, college rival Anders Albertson and veteran tour player David Skinns as Georgia residents who have won on the Web.com Tour the past two months. Both Garber and Albertson moved into the top 10 on the money list after their victories and will be PGA Tour members for the 2018-19 season. Skinns and Straka both have some work to do if they hope to also move up to the PGA Tour later this year.
Prior to Sunday’s victory, Straka had suffered through a disappointing sophomore season on the Web.com Tour and was 130th on the money list without a top-25 finish.
“The season hasn’t been good,” Straka said after his victory. “I felt like I was playing good golf but struggled with my putting.”
Straka added that he straightened out his putting problems midway through the season, but his recent results had not reflected that. After making six consecutive cuts, Straka missed his last three in a row coming into the tournament in Kansas City.
“The last three cuts I missed, I felt like I was playing food golf but wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I knew I was pretty close to playing good golf and just stuck with it.”
Evidently, Straka felt right at home on the greens of the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout, finishing the week third in the putting stats after being ranked 127th in putting on the tour coming into the tournament.
Straka carded 29 birdies for the week and had just one bogey in each of the first three rounds before taking four in the final round. The 25-year-old Straka ranks among the top ball strikers on the tour, standing 16th in driving distance with an average of more than 316 yards, ninth in total driving and 17th in greens in regulation.
But until his victory Sunday, his best finish this season had been a tie for 27th in Raleigh two months earlier. In his first 19 starts, Straka had missed eight cuts and earned just $23,500. He was 130th on the money list and faced a return to the qualifying process to retain his playing privileges for the 2019 season.
Straka’s win in Kansas City was worth $121,500, boosting his earnings for the season to $145,000 and advancing him more than 100 spots on the money list to 29th. With two tournaments remaining in the regular season, Straka is a little more than $8,500 behind former Augusta State golfer Henrik Norlander, who is the man on the bubble in the 25th position.
The top 25 at the end of the regular season are guaranteed spots on the 2018-19 PGA Tour, which begins in October, with those finishing between 26 and 75 on the money list competing with PGA Tour players who ended up outside the top 125 on the FedExCup points list in the Web.com Finals for 25 more PGA Tour cards.
Albertson,a recent Georgia Tech golfer from Woodstock, is eighth on the money list and will be making his debut later this year on the PGA Tour along with Gardner, who is living on St. Simons Island and is 14th in earnings. Roberto Castro, a former Georgia Tech standout from Alpharetta, is 17th and will be returning to the PGA Tour later this year.
Norlander, Straka and Skinns, a Suwanee resident who is 37th on the money list, all need strong showings the next two weeks to finish in the top 25, as does former Clayton State golfer Will Wilcox, who is 31st.
Straka is a native of Austria, and lived there until he was a freshman in high school, moving to Valdosta (his mother is a south Georgia native). He and his twin brother Sam both attended UGA on golf scholarships, with Sam going into the business world after graduating in 2015. He has retained his amateur status.
Sepp took a redshirt during what would have been his junior season in 2013-14, and played his senior season in 2015-16 apart from his twin brother for the first time in his life. Straka emerged as one of the team’s top players as a senior, recording five top-10 finishes including a career best second place showing in the annual Linger Longer Invitational at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
After concluding his senior season, Straka turned pro and qualified for the Web.com Tour in his first attempt. He enjoyed a successful rookie season in 2017, placing 71st on the money list to retain his exempt status for this season, placing in the top 25 five times with his best finish a tie for seventh in Mexico. He made the cut in three of the four tournaments in the Web.com Finals series, but did not finish among the top 25 money winners that could have earned him a PGA Tour card.
Among the highlights of Straka’s first full season as a pro came in an appearance in the European Tour event in his home country. Competing in the Austrian Open on a sponsor exemption, Straka was a strong contender in the tournament for 54 holes and wound up tied for seventh, just five shots behind the winner. He competed again this year and tied for 43rd in an event re-named the Shot Clock Masters.
The Web.com Tour wraps up its regular season with tournaments in California this week and Portland next week. The Web.com Finals series opens the following week in Columbus, Oho, and will make stops in Cleveland and Boise before the Tour Championship in Jacksonville Sept. 20-23.