Chesson Hadley thought a lot about what not to think about before teeing up Sunday in the final round of the Puerto Rico Open.
Hadley had a one-shot lead and he was working hard at not thinking about how incredible it would be to win a PGA event. He was a rookie playing in his 13th tour event. A victory would open doors, permanently inscribe him as a PGA winner and provide the biggest pay check of his life.
I dont think there has been a single day since I was 6 years old that I didnt think about winning on the PGA tour, said Hadley, a North Raleigh Christian Academy and Georgia Tech graduate.
I sat there before the final round thinking about what a win could mean and knowing that I shouldnt be thinking about those things.
He focused on his previous experiences, which told him to go out and play aggressively.
I shot 5-under. I thought if I could get to 21-under I could win, he said. I went at every flag.
He started the final round with a one-stroke lead on Danny Lee and shot a 5-under 67 at the Trump International Golf Club to finish at 21-under (68-65-67-67267) for a two-stroke victory over Lee and a $630,000 payday.
He birdied the last two holes to hold off Lee, who birdied three of the last four.
The victory gives Hadley a two-year tour exemption and spots in The Players Championship, PGA Championship and Tournament of Champions.
The victory was overwhelming.
It is something that cant be taken away, he said. I won a PGA tournament. I thought I had the talent to win on tour, but I had never done it. I had dreamed of this for year.
Hadley, 26, grew up playing at Raleighs North Ridge Country Club. He went on the course with his father with one club and a putter. He got a full set with 9-iron, 6-iron, 5-iron, 3-iron, sand wedge, driver and putter when he was 6 and broke par by the time he was 12.
That was about the time when his visions of the PGA tour began. He had played basketball, baseball and soccer, but golf had a strong allure, possibly because he thought the game was so hard. He quit playing other competitive sports to concentrate on golf when he was 10.
He and his wife, the former Amanda Geer, went to North Raleigh Christian from elementary school through high school and also knew each other from North Ridge, but Hadley said he wasnt very good dating material.
She took a chance on me and I have been working ever since to make sure she didnt regret it, said Hadley, who still lives in Raleigh.
Hadley was a three-time All-America at Georgia Tech and won the Rex Hospital Open and the 2013 Web.com Tour Championship last year. He had trailed Lee by five shots entering the final round of the Rex tournament, but shot a 64 for victory.
He has three top-10 finishes this year and is No. 21 on the PGA money list with $1,060,750.