The 2013 PGA Tour regular season was a very successful one for most of the 20-something players on the tour who played their college golf in Georgia.
Macon’s Russell Henley (UGA) began his PGA Tour career with a bang, winning his debut event in Hawaii on the strength of five straight birdies to close out the final round.
South Georgia native and St. Simons Island resident Harris English made it two wins for the Bulldogs this season when he scored his first PGA Tour victory in Memphis in June.
Woodstock native and St. Simons resident Chris Kirk, also an ex-Bulldog, nearly captured his second career PGA Tour win but was edged out by Brandt Snedeker at Pebble Beach.
Alpharetta’s Roberto Castro (Georgia Tech) nearly picked up his first title in his second PGA Tour season, placing second behind Bill Haas in the AT&T National at Congressional. Fellow ex-Yellow Jacket Cameron Tringale took third in Tampa, and was among a large group of 20-something Georgians to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs.
The list of recent Georgia collegians who won during the 2013 season added another name in the final regular season event of the season, as Augusta State’s Patrick Reed took the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., in a dramatic playoff over Jordan Spieth, one of a small number of PGA Tour members younger than Reed, who recently turned 23.
After watching Spieth roll in a long, curling putt for par to extend the playoff, Reed won with a birdie on the second extra hole, deftly extricating himself from a the trees on the 10th hole at Sedgefield CC, with what he termed “the best shot of my life.”
Reed had a chance to end the playoff after one hole, but missed a slick, downhill 7-footer for birdie after Spieth rolled in his par attempt from 25 feet following an errant tee shot forced him to scramble on the par-4 18th.
On the second playoff hole, the par-4 10th, Reed’s tee shot sailed wide right, and the initial sign he received was that it ended up out of bounds.
“My heart sank,” Reed said, who was more than relieved when a few people emerged from the tree line into the fairway to give him the safe sign that his ball was in bounds.
Reed’s tee shot came to rest next to some wires near a tree, with the ball well above his feet for his second shot.
“I felt like I was back playing tee ball,” he said. “The ball was so far above my feet, it almost felt like I was taking a baseball swing.”
Reed had to negotiate trees all around him and could not see the flag on the elevated green, but had some towers in the distance he used as aim points. He had to hit a dead straight shot, which he says is hard for him since he draws pretty much everything he hits.
“I had to make sure I made a great swing, and it worked.”
Reed’s punch 7-iron headed straight for the flag, ending up about six feet short of the hole. Spieth, who defeated St. Simons resident Zach Johnson to win a playoff in the John Deere Classic a month earlier, had a birdie opportunity but just missed, enabling Reed to score his breakthrough victory when he holed his birdie try.
In his two previous starts, Reed had scored top 10s in both the Canadian Open and John Deere Classic, his third and fourth top 10s during what had already been a productive rookie season.
Reed was a contender throughout the tournament in Greensboro, trailing by one shot after an opening 65, taking the lead by one after a 64 the next day and sharing the lead going to the final round despite a 71 on Saturday.
A stretch of four birdies in five holes to end the front nine the final day gave him control of the tournament, and he held on for a 66, with Spieth pulling even with four birdies on the last seven holes.
Reed, who shot 14-under for the tournament, led the field in greens in regulation (60 of 72) and was 5th in putting despite a tough day on the greens in the third round.
With the victory, Reed vaulted from 78th to 22nd on the FedExCup points list, placing him in excellent position to make it to the Tour Championship at East Lake along with English (19) and Henley (24). Kirk (31) and Castro (41) were both in range of the top 30.
Among Reed’s perks for his win are a two-year PGA Tour exemption and invitations to the 2014 Tournament of Champions and WGC Bridgestone Invitational, along with an event Reed is familiar with from his two years in Augusta.
“Any professional golfer is going to think about being able to play in the Masters,” Reed said. “I can’t wait. I have butterflies thinking about it.”
Reed played Augusta National three times during his college career, typically during the Winter when the course tends to be wet and plays longer than in early April.
Reed began his college career at Georgia, but struggled to break into a talented lineup his freshman season and transferred to Augusta State. Reed, who moved with his family from Louisiana to Augusta after he graduated from high school, made an immediate impact with the Jaguars, helping lead the team to back-to-back national championships.
En route, the Jaguars defeated Georgia Tech in the opening round in 2010, and edged Georgia in the title match in 2011. Reed went 6-0 in singles for Augusta, and captured the decisive point against fellow PGA Tour winner English in the key match in the Jaguars’ second championship.
Reed turned pro after his junior season, and made a handful of starts in tour events in 2011, twice making the cut on the PGA Tour. He made 12 PGA Tour starts in 2012, playing his way into six events in Monday qualifiers. He earned over $300,000 and recorded four top-25 finishes, but after a second round 75 in the finals of Q-school, was tied for 127th and seemingly headed for the Web.com Tour in 2013.
But Reed shot 68-67-68-67 the final four days, moving from 46th after five rounds into a tie for 22nd, advancing on the number. Fittingly enough for Reed, the final round at Q-school was played on a Monday.
Reed, a native Texan, has returned to his home state, residing in the Houston area.
One other young Georgia golfer made a run at victory in Greensboro. Savannah’s Brian Harman, Reed’s teammate at Georgia for one season, tied for 3rd place, two shots behind Reed. Harman briefly led early the final day after three birdies on the first six holes, but managed just one more over the last 14 holes. It was the best PGA Tour finish for Harman, who had not enjoyed an especially successful second season until his effort in Greensboro, which moved him up from 115 to 80.
Harman was one of 18 players with ties to Georgia to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs, including six in the top 30 and nine who were 41st or better.
Matt Kuchar (2 coming into the playoffs) is guaranteed a spot in the field at East Lake, with Zach Johnson (18) and English (19) likely to make it to Atlanta. Reed (22) and Henley (24) were in good shape, with Charles Howell (27) losing valuable points when he was disqualified after 36 holes in Greensboro due to a minor equipment issue with his driver, which made it a non-conforming club. Howell was 10th with two rounds to play.
Kirk (31), Bubba Watson (38) and Castro (41) were all one top finish away from a spot in the top 30. Also in the top 125 were Scott Brown (76), Nicholas Thompson (77), Harman (80), Stewart Cink (83), Bryce Molder (98), Jason Bohn (106), Lucas Glover (107) and Erik Compton (117).