Hadley Finally Claims Maiden eGolf Tour Title with Runaway Win at River Landing
Winner Chesson Hadley and wife Amanda celebrate on the 18th green
By Stewart Moore
Wallace, NC – In December of 2011, Chesson Hadley called eGolf Tour headquarters to inquire about the deadline to withdraw his 2012 tour membership, and in turn get a full refund. Looking towards the greener pastures of the working world, Hadley made an intelligent decision to give his brief professional career another year. That decision, as it turns out, was a wise one. On Saturday afternoon at the tour’s inaugural River Landing Open, Hadley made good on his vast potential, posting a final-round 71 to win his first eGolf Tour title, as well as the event’s $18,000 first-place prize.
The River Landing Open was the 16th event of the 2012 eGolf Tour season, and was contested this week on the River Course at River Landing Country Club in Wallace, NC.
Hadley, who spent the week staying with friends in Wilmington, NC, began each day with a 50-minute commute up I-40 from the historic city. The move, financially-inspired, left Hadley a bit tired at the start of each round. On both Thursday and Friday, he found himself at 1-over through four holes, trying to snap out of the morning lull the commute left him in.
His scores, however, failed to reflect any fatigue, as rounds of 65-68-67—200 had Hadley on the precipice of his first tour title.
On Saturday morning, Hadley again began his round at 1-over through four – this time, posting an opening bogey at the docile par-4 first.
“It was abysmal. I have an un-conceived child that could have played that hole better,” said Hadley, clearly not afraid of expressing himself. “It was awful. I sniped it off the tee left, hit a fat pitching wedge 60 yards, chipped on, then two-putted. Just brutal.”
The lackluster start gave way to pars on Nos. 2 and 3 – the latter coming courtesy of a 15-foot par putt that settled the charismatic Hadley down into a nice rhythm.
At the par-5 fifth, Hadley recorded his first birdie of the day to get back to even par and 16-under for the tournament. Pars on Nos. 6 through 9 gave the Raleigh, NC native an even-par 36 on the opening nine, and sent him to the back nine of the scenic River Course four shots clear of his nearest competitor.
A par-bogey-birdie stretch to open the back nine kept Hadley at 16-under, but it wasn’t until a birdie at the par-5 15th that he felt as though the tournament was his to lose.
“I know that 16, 17 and 18 play downwind, but they’re not birdie holes, so I felt if I could just get there with four or five shots to spare, that I could get it to the house,” he said.
Routine pars on 16 and 17 brought the affable Hadley to the scenic par-4 closing hole at River Landing, where a solid approach to 20 feet left him with a veritable plethora of putts to play with, and still win.
He only needed two.
The routine two-putt gave Hadley a final-round 71, and allowed the charisma to burst through, thanks in part to a primal yell once the win was his.
“This week was just solid from start to finish,” he said. “It was an unbelievable feeling. I hit my second shot and then gave it the Tiger walk, which felt really good. The whole week has been a huge monkey off my back.”
A three-time “All America” selection at NCAA powerhouse Georgia Tech, Hadley was one of the more well-known amateur players throughout the latter years of the century’s opening decade. Following his senior year in 2010, Hadley turned professional, and immediately made an impact, going toe-to-toe with current PGA TOUR members Jason Kokrak and Tommy Biershenk at the eGolf Tour’s Bushnell Championship en route to a T2 finish – in just his second professional start.
After failing to get through PGA TOUR Q-School later that fall, Hadley returned to the eGolf Tour for the 2011 season, and again played well, notching three top-3 finishes, including a runner-up at the tour’s history-making Samanah Classic in Morocco.
With two third-place finishes in his last seven starts of 2011, Hadley was ready to roll heading into Q-School. The former Yellow Jacket star, who was a contemporary of PGA TOUR standouts Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler and Kyle Stanley, felt ready to join his former junior and college golf competition on golf’s grandest stage.
Again, he failed to advance.
After a few weeks spent sulking and wondering what path his professional life was on, Hadley put the call in to the tour office to post his query, and absorb any cheerful advice he could find.
“I played awful at first stage of Q-School last year,” said Hadley, 25. “I was just miserable.”
For hundreds if not thousands of developmental tour players, the lure of “the real world” and a paycheck stamped in consistency can serve as an alluring option when missed putts leave one’s salary beginning with a negative sign.
“I don’t know what I would have done for a job,” he said. “Fortunately I’m a pretty driven guy so I feel as though I would have been successful with whatever I would have done.”
But as anyone who has ever clocked a 50-hour week at a cubicle can attest, the grass is not always greener on the other side. The desk and the irritable boss will be there forever, Hadley was told – the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chase your dream has a brief shelf life.
“I lost sight of the fact that it is a process, and there is no timeframe for how long it takes to get on the PGA TOUR,” he said. “When you see your buddies out there, you start to wonder if you’re good enough.”
His decision to remain in the professional ranks and postpone – hopefully forever – the proverbial desk job, has proven to be a fruitful one for Hadley, who now has over $70,000 in earnings on the year.
“Maybe what I need to do is think about quitting each offseason, because I’ve played great this year,” joked Hadley.
The comeback kid opened his 2012 campaign with two top-5 finishes in his first three starts, and later added a T4 at St. James to make it three top-5s in his first six events.
At the tour’s inaugural Championship at Wintergreen Resort three weeks ago, Hadley dueled alongside good friend Peter Malnati throughout much of the event’s final round, before coming up one-shot short of Malnati en route to his third career runner-up finish on tour.
That runner-up gave way to a T6 at last week’s Southern Open, which in turn led to this week’s breakthrough win. Hadley has now hit for golf’s odd version of the cycle, posting at least one finish representing each number inside the top six this year: A win, a runner-up, a third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finish.
“I’m playing great. I’m hoping I can make it through Q-School – I know, I will make it through Q-School,” said Hadley, quick to correct himself. “It will be fun to see if I can keep it going.”
Tying for second, four shots behind Hadley at 13-under 285, was three-time eGolf Tour winner David Robinson of Sandersville, GA and Alan Wagner of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each player earned $9,096 for their play.
Robinson, the tour’s leading money winner in 2008, entered Saturday’s final round trailing Hadley by seven shots at 9-under 207.
At 1-under for the day through 11 holes, Robinson was the only player to apply serious pressure to Hadley in the final round. A birdie at the par-4 12th took the former Georgia College and State star to 11-under for the week, but a clutch second shot to the par-5 15th left him just 6 feet away from eagle. When Robinson converted that putt, he moved to 13-under par, just three shots shy of Hadley.
The threat, however, would be brief, as Robinson bogeyed the par-4 14th to drop back to 12-under par, then four behind Hadley. A birdie at the 72nd returned Robinson to 13-under with a final-round 68. The finish marked his second runner-up since 2008, when he notched all three of his wins.
Robinson is still looking for his first win since that magical year when he became the first tour player to break the $100,000 mark in single-season earnings. The River Landing Open represents his 54th start since picking up his third win in 2008. In the years between, Robinson made 16 starts as a conditional member of the Web.com Tour, posting one top-25 finish – a T17 at the 2010 Wichita Open.
During off weeks in 2012, and occasionally opposite of events, Robinson has spent time caddying for brother-in-law Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey on the PGA TOUR. The two players, who married sisters, have formed a nice relationship on TOUR, whereby Robinson can pick up a loop if need be to help ends meet, in turn bringing him a bit closer to a fourth win – which would tie him with Gainey, who has four of his own on the eGolf Tour.
Wagner played the final round alongside Hadley, and made an early move with birdies on Nos. 2 and 5 to reach 11-under par – then just four shots behind Hadley early in the day.
At the narrow par-5 seventh, an errant tee shot by Wagner led to a crushing double-bogey, which dropped him back to 9-under par and out of contention. It was a late rally on the closing nine featuring birdies on 13, 14, 15 and 18 that gave Wagner a final-round 68 and a career-best T2 finish.
Wagner spent the majority of 2011 away from his native Argentina and competing on the eGolf Tour. The 22-year-old from Buenos Aires recorded four top-25 finishes in his rookie year on tour, and has since followed it up with three more in 2012. The T2 at River Landing marked Wagner’s third career top-10 on tour. Both of Wagner’s prior top-10s on the eGolf Tour came at the annual Columbia Open, with a T7 this past May and a T8 in the event’s 2011 edition.
In 2008, Wagner burst onto the golf scene with a win at the Peru Open – an event sanctioned by the Tour de las Americas. That breakthrough victory gave way to an even more prestigious title the following year, when Wagner posted rounds of 68-71-68-68—275 to win the Challenge Tour’s Club Colombia Masters, defeating European Ryder Cup team member Edoardo Molinari by one shot.
Chris Epperson of Hilton Head Island, SC finished in solo-fourth place at 12-under 276, earning $7,000 for his week. The finish was Epperson’s fourth consecutive top-10 on the eGolf Tour, and moved his season-long earnings up to $61,423, good for fourth on the tour’s money list. Epperson, who has nine top-10 finishes in just 13 starts this year, is currently the highest ranked player on the money list without a win in 2012.
• The tour would like to thank River Landing Head Golf Professional Larry George, and his entire staff, for their help in making this first-year event such a success. Special thanks goes to River Landing Head Agronomist Steve Sprouse, Head Golf Course Superintendent Chris Humphrey, and their crew for a fantastic job in presenting such a well-conditioned course for the week – especially in and around the various storms that pelted the greater Wallace, NC area. The greens at River Landing were arguably the best the tour has played all year, so thank you to the crew for their tireless efforts. Finally, the River Landing Open would not be possible without the help of the members. Thanks to each of you for allowing us to utilize your fantastic course for the week, and for your help in volunteering.
• The tour will be off next week before returning to action on August 1-4 for the second annual Championship at Woodside Plantation, to be contested on the Wisteria Course at Woodside Plantation Country Club in Aiken, SC.