Chesson Hadley has a habit of snapping his fingers on the golf course after making a big putt.
A big golf moment Wednesday may have caused another.
Hadley was named the PGA Tour rookie of the year for 2013-2014. The Raleigh native won the Puerto Rico Open, earned more than $1.7 million, played in his first major championships and qualified for the tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
The announcement was made by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who also named Rory McIlroy as the PGA Tour player of the year. McIlroy, the winner of the British Open and PGA Championship, was quick to congratulate Hadley on his award during the conference call.
“That’s something that I wasn’t able to achieve, rookie of the year,” McIlroy said. “Very strong play from him. To get a win in his first season, as well, is always very important, and I’m sure he’ll go on to bigger and better things.”
A former ACC champion and All-America at Georgia Tech, Hadley played his way onto the PGA Tour with a big year on the Web.com Tour in 2013. He won the Rex Hospital Open at TPC Wakefield Plantation and later the Web.com Tour Championship, securing his playing rights on the PGA Tour for 2013-2014.
Hadley, 27, broke through for his first victory in early March at the Trump International Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. A final-round 67 gave him a two-shot win over Danny Lee in the Puerto Rico Open, a $630,000 payday and two-year exemption on the tour.
“The win was huge because it allows me to pick and choose a little bit,” Hadley said. “I have some security, which is everything in a young career.
“To know I have two more years out on tour is nice. I’d like to think it’s not going to be a problem. I would like to think I’m not going to be struggling with status, but you never know. This is a tough game.”
Hadley joined Raleigh native Webb Simpson and former Green Hope High standout Brendon Todd in winning on a revamped tour schedule that began in October. Simpson, a Charlotte resident, won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open to begin the tour season and Todd broke through with his first tour victory in the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship.
Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open championship and Todd contended at this year’s Open in Pinehurst before a third-round 79. Hadley made his first appearances in majors at the British Open and PGA this year, missing the cut in each.
After leaving Georgia Tech, Hadley missed out on qualifying for the PGA Tour and waited tables at Casa Carbone restaurant in Raleigh while playing on the eGolf Tour. During an eGolf event in Southern Pines in 2011, he said of pro golf, “You’ve got to earn your stripes.”
Hadley did that on the Web.com Tour and now on the PGA Tour. He said the next step in his development was to correct the inconsistencies in his game – he was 148th in driving accuracy and 143rd in greens in regulation as a tour rookie.
Hadley was a streaky player as a rookie. He did not qualify for the U.S. Open in Pinehurst and missed 10 of 11 cuts in one stretch during the spring and summer before rebounding late in the year to tie for ninth in the Deutsche Bank Championship and 12th in the BMW Championship, two of the events in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“I think everybody is always searching for that key, that formula,” he said. “I mean, so much about this game surrounds putting, and I don’t feel like I was putting particularly well during my poor stretches.
“Just from teeing it up next year on tour, I’m going to be a better player just because of the experience I gained this year with playing some veterans and picking their brain about how they’ve handled things and getting in contention and handling stuff.”